Rare copy of US Declaration of Independence unearthed - in England

British and American experts are launching an investigation into how a rare copy of the US Declaration of Independence found its way to an archive in southern England. VIDEO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS) -  It's a city rich in history, but Chichester in south-east England has also been hiding an unlikely piece of United States history. 

Archivist Wendy Walker is trying to figure out how a rare copy of the US Declaration of Independence ended up in the West Sussex Record Office. 

"This document, in a way, raises more questions than it answers because how did it get to Sussex, how did it end up here; behind all those questions are the questions of when was it made, where was it made, and why was it made and who was it made for and then how did it get here?" said Ms Walker, a West Sussex county archivist. 

The handwritten manuscript, one of only two parchment copies known to exist, had been stored for more than 60 years in a strong-room among reams of other documents until it was discovered by two Harvard University researchers. 

"To have two Harvard academics turn up on your doorstep and start asking all these fascinating questions about one of your documents, you know, was really exciting,"  Ms Walker added. The document is thought to date back to the 1780s, the decade after the original was signed, and most likely was written in New York or Philadelphia.

"The parchment will now go to the British Library for further scientific tests to try to determine who actually owns it. They will do hyperspectral imaging, which is looking at the document to see things which the naked eye can't see, so there will  be a whole series of tests and forensic examination being done on it over the summer, hopefully to give us a few more answers," said Ms Walker. 

Until then, the manuscript, which has been valued and insured for an undisclosed sum, will remain under lock and key in the records office.