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Fragments of the Koran (Image courtesy Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham)

A 1,370-year-old section of the Koran possibly dating back to the life of Mohammed has been discovered in central England, according to the Irish Times. The ancient leaves were found at the University of Birmingham’s Cadbury Research Library, where they had been mistakenly bound together with a 16th century manuscript of the Koran [Qur’an] — perhaps because both were written in the same angular Hijazi script.

Fragments of the Koran (Image courtesy Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham)

The library had the parchment fragments radiocarbon dated at a University of Oxford laboratory. The analysis revealed they came from the skin of an animal that lived between 568 and 645 CE. Though it’s unclear whether the ink itself was also dated, experts say that whoever wrote the manuscripts might have actually known Muhammad or heard him speak, as the Islamic prophet himself lived from 570 to 632.

“This means that the parts of the Qur’an that are written on this parchment can, with a degree of confidence, be dated to less than two decades after Muhammad’s death,” said David Thomas, Professor of Christianity and Islam at Birmingham, in a statement. “These portions must have been in a form that is very close to the form of the Qur’an read today, supporting 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.”

Fragments of the Koran (Image courtesy Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham)

That’s incredible news, considering that no other manuscripts have been found to date to earlier than 100 years after Muhammad’s death. In 1972, archaeologists found several Koran codices in Yemen written on parchment dating between 645 and 690 CE, but the actually text itself was written between 710 and 715 C.E. Another early manuscript was the Codex Parisino-petropolitanus, but it still only dates to the late 7th century.

Fragments of the Koran (Image courtesy Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham)

Muslim tradition holds that the Koran was revealed to Muhammad between 610 and 632 CE. In the years that followed, parts of it were written down on stones and pieces of animal skin, as was the case with the recently revealed fragments. These cover three Suras — or chapters — from the Koran that include stories like that of the People of the Cave, who fled persecution and slept for 309 years; the Islamic version of the birth of Jesus, who Muslims do not believe was God’s son as Christians do; and the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. It wasn’t until 650 CE, during the rule of the third caliph Uthman, Muhammad’s revelations were compiled into a single book.

The ancient fragments will go on display at The Barber Institute of Fine Arts on October 2, and it’s likely to attract a flood of visitors. As Muhammad Afzal, chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque, said in a video, “All the Muslims in the world would love to see this manuscript.”

Fragments of the Koran (Image courtesy Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham)

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Laura C. Mallonee

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...