This May Be One of the Earliest Koranic Texts in the World

screenshot via University of Birmingham
screenshot via University of Birmingham / screenshot via University of Birmingham

Researchers from the U.K.'s University of Birmingham say they've discovered one of the oldest Koranic texts in the world hiding in a 16th-century manuscript held in a university library collection. Written in a slanting Hijazi script, the two parchment leaves look very different from the others in the manuscript—and they may be much older.

Radiocarbon analysis dates the animal skin parchment on which the text is written to sometime between 568 and 645 CE with 95.4 percent accuracy, according to a press statement, contemporaneous with the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad, who is thought to have lived between 570 and 632. The text contains parts of suras, or chapters, 18 to 20.

"If it is what we think it is, it is very important," says David Thomas, a professor of Christianity and Islam at Birmingham, in the video below. "This manuscript could well have been written just after [Muhammad] died. The parts of the Koran that are contained in those fragments are very similar indeed to the Koran as we have it today. This tends to support the view that the Koran that we now have is more or less very close indeed to the Koran as it was brought together in the early years of Islam."

It's important to keep in mind that they dated the animal skin, not the ink, and as one Saudi scholar noted to The New York Times, animal skins were often washed and reused. Moreover, the script has features like dots and separated chapters that are thought to have been introduced only later. So it's possible the text was penned later than the radiocarbon analysis would suggest.

Regardless, it's an intriguing find. For more from the researchers behind the discovery, click the video below.