LONDON — For decades, an ancient relic from the Middle East was unknowingly tucked away in an unlikely place: A library in the British Midlands, thousands of miles from its origins.

LONDON — For decades, an ancient relic from the Middle East was unknowingly tucked away in an unlikely place: A library in the British Midlands, thousands of miles from its origins.


But when a PhD researcher at the University of Birmingham decided to take a closer look at the pages of parchment, written on sheep or goat skin, it was discovered that they were part of a manuscript of global significance.


The University of Birmingham announced this week that it found one of the world’s oldest fragments of the Quran, said to date from the time of the prophet Muhammad.


Birmingham, which is Britain’s second-largest city and has a large Muslim population, has been singled out in the past for the wrong reasons, but on Wednesday it was celebrating the fact that it was home to an important piece of world heritage.


Muhammad Afzal, chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque, said he expected people to travel from across Britain to see the holy text.


"When I saw these pages I was very moved. There were tears of joy and emotion in my eyes. And I’m sure people from all over the U.K. will come to Birmingham to have a glimpse of these pages," he told the BBC.


The manuscript, which had been kept with a collection of other Middle Eastern books and documents, was tested using radiocarbon dating at a lab at the University of Oxford. The researchers found that, with a probability of more than 95 percent, it was from between 568 and 645, making it one of the oldest surviving texts of the Quran.


David Thomas, professor of Christianity and Islam at the University of Birmingham, told the BBC that the author may have known the prophet: "The person who actually wrote it could well have known the prophet Muhammad. 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," he said.


Susan Worrall, the University of Birmingham’s director of special collections, said researchers were stunned that the pages turned out to be as old as they were.


"We were expecting it to be early, but we did not in our wildest dreams expect that it would correlate to the lifespan of the prophet Muhammad," she told the BBC.


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The Quran manuscript in this story will be on display at the Barber Institute (@BarberInstitute) October 2-25 http://t.co/QsDp3lQf9G