Archaeologists may have discovered the oldest known extract of Homer's epic poem The Odyssey.

Engraved with 13 verses, the ancient tablet has been unearthed in southern Greece in what is possibly the earliest-recorded trace of the poem, the Culture Ministry said.

The clay slab is believed to date back to the third century during the Roman era.

The extract of this seminal work, taken from book 14, describes the return of Ulysses to his home island of Ithaca.

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"If this date is confirmed, the tablet could be the oldest written record of Homer's work ever discovered," in Greece, a ministry statement said.

The tablet was discovered after three years of surface excavations by the Greek Archaeological Services in cooperation with the German Institute of Archaeology.

It was found close to the remains of the Temple of Zeus at the cradle of the Olympic Games in western Peloponnese.

The plaque is "a great archaeological, epigraphic, literary and historical exhibit," the ministry said.

First composed orally around the 8th century BC, the epic — which is attributed to ancient Greek author Homer — was later transcribed during the Christian era onto parchment of which only a few fragments have been discovered in Egypt. It was probably handed down in oral tradition for hundreds of years before first being written down.

The Odyssey is a Greek poem that tells of the return journey of Odysseus to the island of Ithaca after the war at Troy. The war lasted 10 years and Odysseus spent an additional 10 years trying to get home in the face of difficulties from Poseidon, god of the earth and sea.

The section that has been found is part of The Odyssey's 14th Rhapsody in which Odysseus talks to his friend Eumaeus, the first mortal he meets after returning to Ithaca.