The seeds, dubbed Adam, Jonah, Uriel, Boaz, Judith and Hannah, were among many others discovered at archaeological sites in the Judean desert.
It is not the first time the team have managed to grow ancient seeds: in 2008 they reported that they had germinated a 1,900-year-old Judean date palm seed from Masada – an ancient site extended by Herod the Great in the first century BC that looks out over the Dead Sea. That plant, a male, was named Methuselah after the oldest character in the Bible.
But the new study goes further – not only involving more seeds, but shedding light on the way Judean farmers may have cultivated the famous plants.
And with the newly germinated seeds including females, the discovery could bear further fruit: the team say they hope to apply Methuselah’s pollen to Hannah – which is expected to produce a flower within the next two years – with the goal of producing dates.
But it may not quite be a resurrection.
Date palms are thought to have first been cultivated in Arabia and Mesopotamia (now Iraq) more than 6,000 years ago and were once widespread in ancient Judea, a region of the Levant. As well as being an important item of food, said Sallon, they were used to treat various medical conditions, including depression and poor memory. “Dates were an enormous export from Judea and they were famous,” she said.
Writers from Pliny the Elder to Herodotus raved about the qualities of Judean dates, including their long shelf-life, which allowed them to be transported far and wide. “Herod even used to present them to the emperor in Rome every year,” said Sallon.
But the plants suffered under centuries of unrest; by the 19th century the plantations had disappeared.
Writing in the journal Science Advances, Sallon and colleagues report how they planted 32 Judean date palm seeds retrieved from a variety of archaeological sites across the Judean desert. These include Masada and caves at Qumran – shelters best known for concealing the Dead Sea scrolls but which were also used by refugees in ancient times. Continue Reading….