Someone better call Nicholas Cage, because we've got a runaway copy of the Declaration of Independence on our hands.
Two Harvard researchers uncovered a more than 200-year-old copy of the document casually sitting in a record office in Britain, and it's unlike any other that has been found before.
Emily Sneff and Danielle Allen have been compiling a database called the Declaration Resource Project, gathering every copy of the document produced between 1776 and 1820 -- including versions printed in newspapers and books. But, though they have over 300 copies of the Declaration in their directory, none of them compare to this one.
"We quickly realized it was unlike any other copy that was in our database. It was very exciting," Sneff told NBC News on Sunday. "I was skeptical at first... [but] this is the kind of discovery that every historian wants to make."
The original 1776 copy has lived under glass in the National Archives in Washington D.C., along with the Constitution and Bill of Rights, since 1952. This copy, which has been named the Sussex Declaration, is the first of its kind that is the same size and scale as the original.
"We certainly weren't looking for a copy of the declaration like this," Sneff told CBS News.
"Nobody even had an inkling that a second one might exist, and so therefore there was no reason to look for such a thing," Allen added.
According to the Declaration Research Project website, one of the most important things about this document is the paper that it's made of.
"[This is] the only known parchment manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence apart from the engrossed and signed parchment in the National Archives (refered [sic] to herein as the Matlack Declaration)," the site explains. "Both words -- parchment and manuscript -- are important. There are other parchment copies that were printed; these are the only two parchment copies that were handwritten. There are also other handwritten copies of the Declaration, for instance, with the text written out on letter-sized paper for private circulation. The Matlack Declaration and the Sussex Declaration are the only two parchment manuscript copies of the Declaration."
The pair has concluded that this Declaration was produced either in Philadelphia or New York, and was probably held by Third Duke of Richmond Charles Lennox, a British politician who was known for his support of America during the Revolution.
So who exactly commissioned this document? Sneff and Allen, along with a team of other researchers now involved in the project, say it was most likely James Wilson. Wilson signed the original Declaration representing Pennsylvania and was a Supreme Court Justice from 1789 to 1798.
"Wilson did more than any other founder to activate the Declaration of Independence as foundational to the ideological origins of the new nation," the researchers explained.
The Sussex Declaration stands in contrast with all over versions of the document, though, because of one simple detail -- the way the signatures are grouped. The original Declaration of Independence organizes its signatures by state, whereas this one lists the names individually.
"This difference goes along with a debate that was raging on in the 1780s between Federalists and anti-Federalists," Allen said. "That's one thing that makes the discovery so significant."