Heritage: Rare copy of the Koran to be published online

A rarely-seen manuscript of one of the world's most important copies of the Koran is to be published online.

The ornate, hand-written holy book, estimated to be around 500 years old, is so precious and fragile scholars have been unable to put it on display.

Each of the 470 pages measures 88x60cm, the size of a large plasma screen TV, and it is kept by the University of Manchester's John Rylands Library.

Now experts at the library are using digital technology to photograph each page and publish the book online to enable scholars and students to study it.

This copy of the Koran was written by several scribes, though historians disagree on when it was written, with estimates ranging from the second half of the 14th century to 1500.

Analysis of the digital images should aid scholars to date the manuscript more accurately.

It is believed to have originated from Cairo from the library of Kansuh al-Ghuri, one of the last Mamluk Sultans of Egypt.

Known as the Rylands Koran of Kansuh al-Ghuri, it has two missing pages, or leaves, which were discovered in the 1970s at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin.

The missing pages will also be captured in digital images and reunited with the book on the internet.

At least 950 images will be captured - which will be between 80 and 120MB each - allowing their study in intricate detail.

It will eventually be freely available for research, teaching and learning using Turning the Pages technology on a dedicated website.

Project manager Carol Burrows, collection and research support manager at the John Rylands Library, said: "Because of its size and weight, reading room access has been severely restricted to all but a handful of scholars. It cannot be used in exhibitions, seminars or public close-ups.

"It will certainly be challenging to photograph this enormous manuscript, as it is too large and heavy for the equipment we normally use.

"However, we have constructed dedicated equipment which will achieve this aim."

The Koran was purchased by the library in 1901 as part of the Crawford collection of manuscripts, a collection of artefacts acquired by

various Earls of Crawford.

The project has been funded by the Islamic Manuscript Association.

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