The University of Birmingham in the U.K. says it has discovered a portion of a Quran manuscript from about the time of the Prophet Muhammad, making it one of the earliest versions of Islam's holy book to survive.

Radiocarbon analysis conducted at Oxford University dated the parchment on which the text is written to between the years 568 and 645. Muhammad is believed to have lived between 570 and 632.

"The radiocarbon dating has delivered an exciting result, which contributes significantly to our understanding of the earliest written copies of the Qur'an," Susan Worrall, director of special collections (Cadbury Research Library), at the University of Birmingham, said in a statement. "We are thrilled that such an important historical document is here in Birmingham, the most culturally diverse city in the U.K."

The manuscript, written on sheep or goat skin, is part of the university's Mingana Collection of Middle Eastern manuscripts, which was acquired in the 1920s. The BBC adds that Alba Fedeli, a doctoral researcher, decided to carry out the radiocarbon dating. The results, she told the BBC, were "startling."

Here's more from the University of Birmingham:

"Consisting of two parchment leaves, the Qur'an manuscript contains parts of Suras (chapters) 18 to 20, written with ink in an early form of Arabic script known as Hijazi. For many years, the manuscript had been misbound with leaves of a similar Qur'an manuscript, which is datable to the late seventh century."

Muslims believe Muhammad received the revelations that form the Quran between the years 610 and 632, when he died.

Explaining the significance of the find, David Thomas, professor of Christianity and Islam at the university, said the revelations had not been compiled into a book at that time, but were instead preserved in "the memories of men." Parts of it had been written down on parchment, stone, palm leaves and the shoulder blades of camels, he said.

Caliph Abu Bakr, the first leader of Muslims after Muhammad, ordered the material collected in the form of a book. Islam's third leader, Caliph Uthman, directed the final, authoritative written form of the Quran in about 650, Thomas said.

"The tests carried out on the parchment of the Birmingham folios yield the strong probability that the animal from which it was taken was alive during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad or shortly afterwards," he said. "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.

"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."

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