A Ph.D. student who stumbled upon several ancient pieces of paper hidden in another book may have inadvertently discovered pages from the world's oldest Quran, researchers at the University of Birmingham in England announced Wednesday.
Radiocarbon dating estimates the pages, likely made of sheep or goat skin, are 1,370 years old, the BBC reports. The testing is more than 95 percent accurate, meaning the parchment is probably from the era of Prophet Muhammad, who is thought to have lived between the years 570 and 632.
"[The pages] could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam," David Thomas, a professor of Christianity and Islam at the university, said in a release explaining the pages' significance.
"The person who actually wrote it may well have known the Prophet Muhammad," Thomas told the BBC. "He would have seen him, probably. He would maybe have heard him preach. He may have known him personally, and that really is quite a thought."
The pages -- which had been hiding in a book in the University of Birmingham's library until doctoral student Alba Fedeli found them and showed them to librarians -- are covered in an early Arabic "Hijazi" script and contain parts of the Quran's "Suras," or chapters, from 18 to 20.
These discovered sections are remarkably similar to the Quran as it's read today, researchers say.
"These portions [support] the view that the text has undergone little or no alteration, and that it can be dated to a point very close to the time it was believed to be revealed," Thomas said.
Early parts of the book were written down in segments on a wide variety of materials including parchment, stone, palm leaves and even the shoulder blades of camels.
Caliph Abu Bakr, the Muslim community's first leader after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, ordered the initial collection of the segments be compiled into a book, but it wasn't until Caliph Uthman, the third leader, that the Quran took its final form, around the year 650.
And that makes these newly discovered sections all the more interesting, said Muhammad Isa Waley, the lead curator for Persian and Turkish manuscripts at the British Library. He said these pages may be older than Uthman, and perhaps even Abu Bakr.
"The Muslim community was not wealthy enough to stockpile animal skins for decades, and to produce a complete Mushaf, or copy, of the Holy Quran required a great many of them," Waley said in a release.
"The carbon dating evidence ... seems to leave open the possibility that the Uthmanic redaction took place earlier than had been thought -- or even, conceivably, that these folios predate that process," he added.
The University of Birmingham plans to put the Quran on public display at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts from October 2 and 25.
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