Reviving the Date Palms of Ancient Judea—and Discovering Their Origins

December 28, 2020 | Megan Sauter
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For several years, a group of scientists and archaeologists led by Sarah Sallon have been working to grow date palms from 2,2000-year-old seeds discovered in the Judean desert. After successfully, growing both male and female trees, they have managed to produce dates like those eaten in biblical and talmudic times. Megan Sauter writes:

The Judean date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) is known from historical accounts for its sweet, large fruit, which even had medicinal properties. It played a significant role in the Judean economy for about two millennia—at the least from the 5th century BCE until the 11th century CE—but went extinct centuries ago.

In 2008, [Sallon and her team] successfully germinated a 2,000-year-old seed from the fortress of Masada near the Dead Sea and, appropriately, named this seedling “Methuselah.” This past year, they revealed the germination of six other seeds: one from Masada, four from Qumran, and one from Wadi Makukh. These were named “Adam,” “Jonah,” “Uriel,” “Boaz,” “Judith,” and “Hannah,” respectively.

The genes of modern date palms come from two fairly distinct populations: an eastern variety (from the Middle East, Arabia, and Asia) and a western variety (from Africa). The researchers determined that the Judean date palm came from crossbreeding eastern varieties with western varieties.

Compared to modern date seeds, the ancient seeds were longer and wider. This corroborates the historical descriptions of these dates as being large. The descriptions of the dates’ sweetness are also accurate.

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