The University of Bologna in Italy says it has found the world’s oldest complete Torah, after carbon dating tests revealed that the text may have been written more than 850 years ago.

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“Scroll Number Two” had been mislabelled

The scroll, which was thought to be no more that a few hundred years old and named simply ‘Scroll Number Two’, had been in the university library all the time, but had been mislabelled in 1889, a professor said.

Professor of Hebrew Mauro Perani, who led the re-examination, said he arranged for carbon testing after he realised it was that of the oriental Babylonian tradition, meaning that the scroll must be extremely old.

“The scroll is very rare because when manuscripts spoil they lose their holiness and can no longer be used. They are then buried,” he said, adding that the state of conservation was “excellent”.

The text contains letters and signs forbidden in later copies under rules laid down by the scholar Maimonides in the 12th Century, the university says.

The precious lambskin scroll is now of immense value, because while fragments of the Torah have been found from the 7th century, the Italian find is believed to be the oldest wholly preserved text.