Analyzing 6,000-year-old barley seeds found in a cavern in Masada, scientists have found evidence for the theory that the grain—mentioned frequently in the Hebrew Bible—was domesticated from wild strains in the Jordan valley. Ilan Ben Zion writes:
[The] seeds . . . have become the oldest plant genome to be sequenced, an international team of researchers announced. . . . The arid climate and precipitous cliff [near where they were found] left the grains preserved for millennia. Ehud Weiss of Bar-Ilan University, one of the heads of the study, [explained] that whereas most ancient kernels are found charred and [thus] useless for DNA study, those excavated from the cave on Masada . . . “looked almost alive, almost fresh.” . . .
Radiocarbon dating determined the seeds were 6,000 years old, grown several millennia after humans residing in the Fertile Crescent first domesticated grains such as barley and wheat around 10,000 years ago.
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