A 2,000-year-old rare Buddhist manuscript, originally from Gandhara in norther Afghanistan and Pakistan, was opened to public in the Library of Congress.

Pieces of the Buddhist manuscript, which dates back to the 7th century CE were discovered near Kabul in an ancient settlement. This manuscript is believed to surpass Gutenberg’s Bible as the world’s oldest printed book. Historians say that Buddhists texts and manuscripts were printed in 868 CE.

Researchers from the Afghan Institute of Archaeology believe the ancient manuscripts may have been kept in an archive at the site, which also comprised of a monastery complex, murals and over 400 Buddha statues and stupas. The institute revealed that the sutras written in Sanskrit on tree bark were discovered on a hillside a few years ago in Mes Aynak, about 40 kilometers southeast of Kabul.

The Afghan government, in 2009, initiated an exacavation, which will take several more years to complete, of the settlement. The institute conceives the site to have been occupied between the 3rd and 7th centuries CE. Historians are also speculating that the site may have been mentioned by the 7th century Chinese monk, Xuanzang, in the Great Tang Records on the Western Regions.

The ancient manuscript, or the Gandhara text as its also known because of its place of origin, narrates, according to CNN, a story of 13 Buddhas who preceded Siddartha Gautama, his own emergence and the prediction of future Buddha. It chronicles details about the lives of the Buddhas, the social class that they were born into and their teachings.

Mes Aynak Buddha
A Buddha statue discovered at the Mes Aynak archaeological site in the eastern province of Logar, in Afghanistan. The ancient city sits on top of one of the world’s largest known copper deposits, which is currently on lease to a state-owned Chinese mining company. Brent Huffman

In a statement, the reference librarian in the Asian Division at the Library of Congres, Jonathan Loar, described the pieces of the manuscript as a unique item. Loar said it is very old compared to similiar manuscripts and brings us relatively close to the lifetime of the Buddha. He said the library’s scroll retains nearly 80 percent of the original text, with only the beginning and end missing. “The scroll is very well-preserved thanks to the work of the Library’s conservators, but it is still incredibly fragile,” Loar said.

The expert added that the scroll is one of the most complicated and fragile pieces that the Library of Congress has ever treated. Loar revealed the scroll was purchased from a private collector in 2003.