Fragments of a Koran dating back at least 1,370 years have been found among the archives of the U.K.’s University of Birmingham.
Written in an early form of Arabic, the fragments were part of a collection brought back to Britain from Iraq in the 1920s but had never been recognized for their antiquity or value, the BBC reports.
Radiocarbon dating indicates that the fragments, which are written on goat or sheepskin, almost certainly come from between the years 568 and 645. “They could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam,” University of Birmingham professor of Christianity and Islam David Thomas told the BBC.
Tradition dictates that the Prophet Muhammad received the revelations that would eventually form the Koran between 610 and 632, the year he died. Many scholars believe that portions of the Koran were written down separately on palm leaves, parchment, or the shoulder bones of camels, before being collected into a complete edition around 650.
Although the imprecise nature of radiocarbon dating make it impossible to claim decisively that these fragments represent the oldest Koran, they are certainly significant. “The person who actually wrote it could 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 to conjure with.”