Topic: Ancient Seed
It was a bit like shades of Jurassic Park — but this was about plants, not animals. And it was real — nothing fictional about this.
During excavations by the late Ehud Netzer in 1973 at the site of Herod the Great’s fortified mountaintop palace at Masada in Israel, archeologists uncovered a cache of seeds stowed away in a clay jar about 2,000 years ago. For decades, the ancient seeds were stored in a drawer at Tel Aviv’s Bar-Ilan University. But in 2005, in collaboration with the Louis L. Borick Natural Medicine Center at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, botanical researcher Elaine Solowey received one of them for an experimental planting.
“When we asked if we could try and grow some of them, they said, ‘You’re mad,’ but they gave us three seeds,” she said. “Lotus seeds over 1,000 years old have been sprouted, and I realized that no one had done any similar work with dates, so why not give it our best shot — and we were rewarded.”*
Solowey planted a seed in a pot at Kibbutz Ketura in January, immediately after receiving them. Since then, it has sprouted into a seedling, produced its first blossom in 2011, and now flourishes as a young date palm. It has been nick-named “Methuselah”, after the oldest person who ever lived, according to the biblical account.
At first blush, it appears no different than thousands of other modern date palms growing throughout Israel and the Middle East. But looking a little closer, one sees a distinction. “The only difference between this date seedling and any other date seedlings I’ve seen come up is the length of the third leaf. This is very unusual,” Solowey said.*
The fruit of this ancient tree, the Judean date, has been recorded in ancient literature as having valuable properties. It is said to have been an aphrodisiac, a contraceptive, and a cure for diseases such as cancer, malaria and toothaches. For Christianity, the palm has been regarded as a symbol of peace, the ancient Hebrews referred to it as a “tree of life” for its food properties and shade, and Arabic populations have used it for a vast variety of purposes. Upon entering Judea, the Romans observed prolific forests or groves in the Jordan River valley, extending from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. It was a major element of the area’s economy. Interestingly, they called the date palm “the date-bearing phoenix”, as it never seemed to die and was able to flourish in the desert where other plants could not survive.
Solowey and colleagues hope to be able to cross-breed the plant with other closley related date palm types.