Researchers find copy of Declaration of Independence in England records office (VIDEO)

In what’s being described as the discovery of a lifetime, Harvard researchers found a copy of the Declaration of Independence in a records office in Chichester, England.

“We certainly weren’t looking for a copy of the declaration like this,” said Harvard researcher Emily Sneff.

“Nobody even had an inkling that a second one might exist, and so therefore there was no reason to look for such a thing,” added Harvard professor Danielle Allen.

The 18th-century, hand-written, parchment paper document was discovered folded up and buried under archives in the records office. Considering its age – and the lack of preservation – the document is in excellent condition. Although it appears a mouse did take a few nibbles from the parchment.

The document is believed to have been penned in the 1780s in America and likely commissioned by James Wilson. Researchers believe the copy may have originally belonged to the Duke of Richmond and was handed down through the family until it eventually fell into the hands of a local man who gave the document to the records office in the 1950s.

The most noticeable difference in the recently discovered copy and the original kept protected under glass at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. is the fact that the signatures appear random and in no particular order as opposed to being listed by state.

“It goes to the heart of the American political order: does the American political order rest on a single national people or on treaties among several states?” Allen said.

Of course, experts will be working to determine the authenticity of the document, but County archivist Wendy Walker – who laughed at the idea of any other arrangement – said the rare document will stay in her care at the records office.

[ CBS News ]