Six Judean Date Palm Seeds Germinated After 2,000 Years, Giving Clues About Ancient Origins

Science Advances—Scientists have germinated six ancient date palms from 2,000-year-old seeds recovered in southern Israel between the Judean Hills and the Dead Sea, confirming the long-term survival of Judean date palm seeds, according to a new study. Genetic information gleaned from the findings confirm written accounts by classical writers and may provide insights into the highly sophisticated cultivation practices that contributed to the fruit’s legendary size, sweet taste, extended storage, and medicinal properties—traits that lent it status as a desirable commodity exported throughout the Roman Empire. Date palms are noted as one of the earliest domesticated tree crops, with records suggesting their cultivation began about 7000 years ago. The Kingdom of Judea, which arose in the 11th century BCE, was especially known for the quality of its dates, but the last remains of the region’s date plantations were wiped out by the 19th century. Following up on a 2008 study in which they first germinated a 1900 year-old date seed from a historical site near the Dead Sea, Sarah Sallon et al. planted a selection of well-preserved seeds in a research site in Kibbutz Ketura, drawing from a collection of hundreds of ancient date seeds plucked from archaeological sites between 1963 and 1991. While the seeds dwarfed modern varieties, the researchers could not visually identify any characteristics linked to seeds that germinated or those that did not. Radiocarbon dating revealed that the genomes of older seeds originated in more eastern geographic locations, although Sallon and colleagues note that the sample size was too small to represent a trend. The western-rooted genomes of younger seeds coincide with Judea’s wars with the Roman Empire and the population’s resulting deportation.

Article Source: Science Advances news release

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