Posts Tagged ‘dates’

On this day ten years ago…
via Seed of extinct date palm sprouts after 2,000 years

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Excavated Burial Chambers at Saar

Topic: Ancient life of Saar

Saar is a single-period Early Dilmun settlement, located on the northwest part of the island of Bahrain, near the center of the Persian Gulf. Dilmun was a trade partner between the ancient states of Meluhha (the Indus Valley civilizations of Pakistan and India) and Mesopotamia (what is today Iraq). Saar covers an area of about 2.5 hectares (~6 acres), and it lies on the lee side of a north/south limestone ridge which once included an extensive cemetery.


2300 BC – Founded
1950-1850 Main phase of settlement
1800-1700 BC – Abandoned
The central portion of the town of Saar is laid out in a rectangular plan, on a northwest/southeast grid: the grid breaks down on the outskirts, suggesting that although the foundation of the town was planned, additional growth was not. The settlement is dominated by a central temple, which stood at the highest point at an elevation of 14 meters (~46 feet), and at the junction of two major roads. The temple is also set aside from the rest of the town by alleyways. Smaller roadways divide up the houses into blocks of four or five houses each.


Residential structures at Saar were built in rows, rather than stand-alone buildings, with shared walls and, occasionally, open spaces. The walls and door sockets were constructed of roughly finished local limestone, although some amount of architectural stone was imported from the Arabian mainland. Most of the single nuclear family dwellings conform to a plan of two rooms, an outer L-shaped area and a smaller inner room in a total area of about 80 square meters (860 square feet). The inner room, believed to have been used for storage, typically had a stone-built roof. The outer room, which may have been a private courtyard, was usually simply covered by a palm-frond roof.

At the entrance of a typical house was a double basin with two bowls, a higher and lower one, both covered in grey plaster. Open hearths with clay rims, and elaborated double hearths with clay tripods were used as cooking areas. Plastered pits and sunken storage jars are common in the floors of the outer L-shaped room.

No evidence of workshops has been discovered at Saar: there are few weapons, no observable hierarchy in the houses, no evidence for fortification walls of the town, and the only non-domestic public building is the temple. Artifacts within the residences included hand-made pottery, stone tools, copper fishhooks and beads, and bitumen.

Agriculture and Diet

Bahrain is an island in the Persian gulf, and the sea played an important role in the economy of all of the Dilmun settlements. Although agricultural products such as dates, wheat and barley have been identified in the archaeological collections, 90 percent of animal bones recovered from Saar were fish, both inland and deep-water species, clearly the primary source of protein. Goat, sheep and cattle were other documented dietary mainstays.

Agriculture is in evidence, although scholars have been divided as to whether grain was grown on the island of Bahrain or imported from Mesopotamia. Although preservation of plant remains was poor, quernstones and grinding stones were used as some form of processing, date palms are the most common food plant.

Archaeobotanical research at Saar was conducted during the early 1990s by Mark Nesbitt, who discovered that the primary food resources used at Saar were dates (Phoenix dactylifera), wheat (Triticum durum/aestivum), and barley (Hordeum vulgare). Nesbitt argues that the limited presence of barley and wheat may signify that these two essentially crops were imported from Mesopotamia, as part of the considerable trade between Dilmun and that part of the world.

Annual rainfall at Bahrain is highly variable, and there is evidence at Saar that date gardens were irrigated by qanats and shadufs.

Possible Temple at Saar

Building 201 at Saar is believed to have been used as a temple, although some scholars (Tews 2011) report some doubt as to the assignment of this structure to a religious function. Built of local stone and mortared with gypsum, the temple is an irregular trapezoidal structure, with a roof supported by three stone pillars. The walls were heavily plastered, at least some of which was painted purple. The final phase of construction split the building into three separate areas.

Two altars within Building 201 are both decorated with a semi-circular plastered symbol at the back which may represent bulls’ horns or a crescent moon. Burnt offerings in the form of fish and vegetable matter were found on the altars. Three platforms are also within the temple, all of which are finely plastered. On the top of one of the platforms is the imprint of a rectangular base, where a jar or urn was placed.

In the open area in front of the temple entrance are five circular bases, perhaps the remains of further offering tables. One stamp seal and fragments of 77 seal impressions was recovered from the temple, but only one of the impressions match the single seal, and there are very few clear impressions.

Other buildings in Saar includ a well, a large kiln and two circular structures at the southeastern border of the settlement which may have been storage facilities.

Artifacts from Saar

Artifacts found within the households include copper fishhooks, bitumen nodules, and numerous shells from shellfish, including pearl oyster. The copper was produced in Bahrain; the bitumen imported from Mesopotamian quarry sites. Tiny seed pearls were found in the excavations, although they were probably too small to e used as ornaments. Nearly 100 seals, used to seal packages, bales and jars, have been found at the Saar settlement, and 48 seals from the associated burial ground: this is very unusual for a small town and unmatched on Bahrain. Four or five seals were found in a single house. All of the seals are of the early Dilmun style.


Saar was discovered on a survey in 1977, and excavated in 1977-1979 under the direction of M. Ibrahim. Some unpublished work by a joint Bahraini-Jordanian expedition at Sarr in the 1980s. The London-Bahrain Archaeological Expedition was conducted at Saar between 1990 and 1999, led by Robert Killick, Jane Moon and Harriet Crawford.


This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to Dilmun Culture, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Crawford H. 1997. The site of Saar: Dilmun reconsidered. Antiquity 71(273):701-708.

Nesbitt M. 1993. Archaeobotanical evidence for early Dilmun diet at Saar, Bahrain. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 4(1):20-47.

Tews S. 2011. Seals in Dilmun Society: The use and value of Bronze Age seals from Saar, Bahrain: Universiteit Leiden.

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By K. Kris Hirst about.com guide


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Topic: Ancient trading route

SAAR, Bahrain — More than 4,000 years ago, Dilmun merchants traveled from Mesopotamia to the Indus River, titans of trade and culture before rise of the empires of the Persians or the Ottomans

Over a millennia, the civilization that Dilmun created on the back of trading in pearls, copper and dates as far as South Asia faded into the encroaching sands. It wasn’t until an excavation by Danish archaeologists in the 1950s that its past was rediscovered.

Now, with Bahrain in a deepening political crisis between its Sunni rulers and majority Shiite population, the connection to ancient Dilmun is one of the few unifying symbols on the island. It also is a rare and vivid look at pre-Islamic life in a region with few sites celebrating cultures before the time of the Prophet Muhammad.

A distinguishing feature of Dilmun civilization was extensive burial mounds, which are still visible today — but under threat.

In the ancient settlement of Saar, about 10 kilometers (six miles) southwest of Bahrain’s capital, Manama, archaeologist and researcher Abdul Aziz Suwalih worries about modern developments that have chipped away at the honeycomb-patterned burial mounds. The mounds have been proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage site to join Bahrain’s ancient Dilmun harbor on the list.

“Bahrain was famous for holding the largest cemetery in the world by having more than 100,000 burial mounds. Now we have around 60,000 burial mounds. There are threats,” Suwalih told The Associated Press. “Protecting the archaeological sites in Bahrain is a big issue.”

In May, Bahrain hosted a conference by UNESCO — the U.N.’s educational, scientific and cultural body — that included discussions about preserving the burial mounds and other remnants of Dilmun civilization, as well as prospects for future digs and explorations.

The Saar settlement was excavated between 1990 and 1999 by the London-Bahrain Archaeological Expedition, though more work remains.
“It is the only Dilmun settlement that has been extensively investigated by archaeologists,” Suwalih said.

Original article:
August 2, 2013
By the associated press



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Topic Date Palm in Egypt

Date Palm tree and fruit


Date palm has given the latin name Phoenix dactylifera L.

The part L.: denoting Linnaeus (1707-1778), the Swedish botanist who brought this binomial name.

Phoenix: There are three explanations as to the etymology of Phoenix:
1. In Ancient Greece: It was the name of a legendary bird which haunted people’s minds throughout antiquity and still exists in the religious and artistic traditions of the Far East. The Greeks described Phoenix bird as a wonderful bird which lived through periods of many hundred years. It was said that before dying, this bird built its own funerary pile, setting fire to it by fanning it with its own wings and eventually arose again from its own ashes.
2. In Ancient Egypt: The date palm was known from the first Pharaonic dynasties. The Egyptian legendary bird was the greedy heron which was so widespread in the Nile valley and they called it ‘Bennu’ bird Fig (1). This bird was found on the mural paintings which decorate the tombs of the kings and the nobles, this bird was assimilated to the great ‘Sun-God’ ‘Ra’ and the sun itself. The terms ‘Bennu’, ‘bnr’, ‘bnr.t’ were also applied to the date palm fruit and to every thing sweet. The date palm was linked in ancient Egypt to the sun-bird and they giving both the same name indicating the importance of this tree to their life (Bircher,1990).
3. In Theophrastus’ days: (The famous botanist; 370-285 BC): There was Phoenicia which was the narrow coastal strip between the Mediterranean sea and the Jordan valley which is now ‘Israel’ and a part of ‘Lebanon’. This region was inhibited with a population with famous purple colour from the Murex shellfish, this colour called ‘Phoenix’ in their language. Theophrastus may derived the word ‘Phoenix’ and gave it to date palm fruits which appear purple on ripening (Bircher,1990).

Dactylifera: This latin term was derived from the Greek word ‘Dactylos’ which means finger. According Linnaeus this was meant tall and slender form. This word was used by ancient ‘Hebrew’ and Syrian names for date palm itself.

Dom and Date palms near Philae Egypt


Date palm has special religious, feeding and industrial values in Ancient Egypt. It was probably cultivated in the Nile Valley several thousand years before the first Hieroglyphs marks appeared. Date palm was given various names in Ancient Egypt, These names were cited in Hieroglyphic symbols (Darby, et al 1977 and Bircher, 1990) among of them: ‘Buno’, ‘Phuno’, ‘Bni’, ‘Bnr’ , ‘Benrt’, ‘Amt’ , ‘Bnrit’ and ‘Bniw’ for date juice. .

1. Old stone-age period: The earliest date palm finds recovered from Egypt was a date palm trunk found in Kharga Oasis (western desert). The sample was dated back to the old stony period.

2. Predynastic period: In Ruzikate (Sharkia province ) the excavations revealed a mummy robed with date palm leaves, in a site dating back to Predynastic period (c.3500 BC; Bircher, 1990). Fleshy part of date palm fruits was detected among the plants, identified from a beer cocktail excavated from a vat in Hierakonpolis site (upper Egypt). The site dated back to Predynastic period (3450 BC.). This was the earliest sample used as reference for usage of date palm for beer sweetening (Amer, 1994). However Darby, et al (1977) mentioned that date palm was used in Ancient Egypt for Beer sweetening.

3. Dynastic period: “In a clean place shall I sit on the ground. Beneath the foliage of a date palm of the goddess Hathor…” The Egyptian Book of Dead.
Date palm seeds were excavated among the botanical remains recovered from Abu Sir (Giza) tombs. These were used as mortuary offerings; the site dating back to the king’s ‘Down’ family belonging to the first dynasty (c. 2950 BC; Annual report, 1992). The columns’ crowns of king ‘Sahure’ in Saqqara were decorated with palm leaves Fig (2). A small date palm tree was found in Saqqara tomb dating back to the first and early second dynasty (c.2850 BC. ). Date was mentioned under the name ‘Bnrit’ among the decoration of ‘Nfer-Mehat’ tomb in Midoum dating back to fourth dynasty (c.2600 BC.). Rocky stones decorated with palm tree were found in ‘Ra Or’ tomb in Giza and ‘Betah Hotop’ tomb in Saqqara from the fifth dynasty (c.2400 BC; Nazir, 1970). Date palm trees were cultivated around a rectangular swimming pool in ‘Rakh Me Ra’ garden; this decoration was depicted on his tomb walls (Nazir, 1970). In Tel-El Amarana eighteenth dynasty (c.1580 BC.); the garden in the magnificent temple of priest ‘Meri Ra’, was decorated with various types of trees; the most notable ones were: date palm, dome palm, in addition to fig and pomegranate (Nazir, 1970). Date palm trees were cultivated in the nobles and kings gardens. Anna’s (Ineini), who was the keeper of cereal storage bins in ‘Amon Hotob’ the first era (New kingdom). The walls of his tomb were decorated with a paints representing his house garden. The names and the numbers of the cultivated trees were written too. There were twenty plant species among of them: seventy three fig trees; thirty one persa trees; one hundred and seventy date palm trees; one hundred and twenty dome-palm trees all these were cultivated around a large rectangular swimming pool( Nazir,1970). Some representative drawings are outlined in Figs(3, 4,5&6).

4. Graeco-Roman period:Date palm seeds were excavated from Douch Necropolis (Kharga Oasis-western desert); the site was dating back to Graeco-Roman period, 350 AD (Wagner,1982 and Barakat 1986).

5. Roman period: Large number of date palm seeds were excavated from Abu-Sha’ar site (Red sea coast); the site dating back to Roman period (c.500 AD.). The excavated seeds were morphologically sorted into five categories it was believed that these seeds were belonging to different desertic date palm cultivars.


Ancient Egyptians used date palm leaves as an emblem of longevity; the excavations revealed a kneeling man holding in his hands a bunch of palm leaves for longevity. Date palm was an emblem of the greatest God ‘Ammon Ra’. Hathor’ the goddess of life, joy, music, dancing and fertility had the date palm as one of her emblems. At Denderah (upper Egypt), a beautiful palm grove surrounded her famous sanctuary (Bitrcher,1990). ‘Thot’ the god of science and time (they believed that he who separates time into months and years had also the date palm as one of his attributes.) Whenever a pharaoh king celebrated the thirtieth jubilee of his reign, the so called ‘Heb Sed’ ceremony; he helds in his hands a bunch of palm mid-ribs (Fig 7). It was believed that into these very mid-ribs the god that had carved the notches corresponding the number of years that were still allowed to the reign and life of the king (Nazir,1970 and Bircher,1990).
Date fruits were among the wages paid to the workmen at Dier El-Medina temple (Darby, et al, 1977). In the dynastic period palm leaves were carried to the tombs as mortuary offerings Fig (8). The mortuary bouques made of date palm leaves were still used till the Graeco-Roman period (Barakat, 1982).

Date palm preservation:

Date palm fruits were preserved in Ancient Egypt by two methods:
1- The simplest method: It was by drying the fruits in a direct sun light for two or three days and left at shaded place till become completely dried to be in ‘Tamr’ form. A representative sample of this method was deposited in Agricultural Museum, Cairo; the sample dating back to eighteenth dynasty and excavated from ‘Tibba’ (Upper Egypt).
2- The second method: It was applied to date palm fruits with higher moisture content than the previous method. This method was performed by pressing a large number of date fruits in basket made of date palm leaves for several days. The resulted date was called ‘Agua’. A representative sample was deposited in Agricultural Museum, Cairo (No. 39897); the sample dating back to the New Kingdom. Both methods are still used in Arab countries for date preservation.

Ancient date industries
Ancient Egyptians used palm trunks for roofing and leaves for basket making (Fig 9; Nazir,1970; Darby, et al, 1977). Leaves were used for manufacture of sandals (Fig 10) especially for the priests and the temple’s workers to whom animal substances were not allowed (Nazir,1970). There were three hundred and sixty date palm products mentioned by Wilkinson (1854). Among of these products a special type of wine known as ‘Araqe’, which is still manufactured in rural areas of Egypt (Nazir,1970). Date palm wine was mentioned on two ostraca of the nineteenth dynasty in the Cairo Museum. Pliny was cited that date palm wine was made throughout all the countries of the East; which probably was meant to include Egypt (Lucas and Harris,1962).


Date palm fruit or their juice were used in Ancient Egypt in many medicinal remedies. Some of them here mentioned based on Darby, et al (1977) and Manniche (1989):
1. A remedy for swelling of any limb of a man: Fresh dates, date kernels, dry myrrh, wax were combined to a paste and bandage for four days.
2. A remedy made for swollen and aching legs: Red natron was mixed with fermented date juice and the legs were bandaged therewith.
3. A remedy to suell cough in a child: Dried crushed date are ground in a ‘hin’ of milk and drunk by the child.
4. A remedy to kill worms: Date kernels, carob pod pulp, sweet beer were mixed, boiled, strained and drunk; the remedy had instant effect.
5. A remedy to cure heat of the heart: Fresh dates, honey, sweet beer were mixed and administer to the anus for four days.
6. A remedy for sneezing: Date juice fill the opening of the nose with it.
7. A remedy to accelerate hair growth: Bone of a dog, date kernels, donkey’s hoof, boiled well in a jar with oil or fat and used as an unguent. Date beer was mentioned with many writers (Lucas and Harris,1962; Darby, et al ,1977; and Nazir,1970) that it was used in mummification.

More to come!

Date Palm

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Topic: Date presses

Dr Andrew Petersen

Date Press


On a lonely stretch of coastline at Ras Al Sharig,  the small peninsula south of the old town of Zubara, a scatter of stones caught the eye of archaeologists exploring the area. There was little to show on the sandy surface – a few rocks, some low, wind-weathered mounds – and most people would have walked past without noticing anything. But to professionals who observe every change on the surface, however small, the signs indicated there was something below the surface.
Dr Andrew Petersen, director of the team from the University of Wales which has just completed a second season of excavations on Qatar’s north-west coast, intrigued his audience at a Qatar Natural History Group meeting on Wednesday when he described the number of enigmatic finds made at Rubaqa, the name of the little settlement. For a start, the inhabitants were not fishermen, nor were they fishing for pearls – there are none of the indications that go with these two common coastal occupations.
So if they were not pearling or fishing, what were they doing, and why did they choose to live on the coast? One answer lies in Rubaqa’s proximity to deep water, and the remains of a small jetty. Another is the extraordinary number of date presses – fifteen at the last count.  Date presses [madbassa in Arabic] are very common in Qatar and occur in almost every Islamic settlement excavated, including Murwab, a large settlement not far from Rubaqa which dates to the Abbasid period of the 9th century. Basically, a date press consists of a rectangular or square area deeply grooved with parallel channels. Sacks of dates were piled onto these, and the weight of the compressed dates caused the sweet, sticky syrup to ooze out, which then trickled down the channels and into a large  jar which was sunk into the ground to receive the syrup.
A curious fact about the Rubaqa date presses is that no two are alike. Some are coated with fine white gypsum plaster, some are not. One has holes and pits for two collecting jars, not one. And one has such a convoluted maze of collecting channels that the archaeologists have no idea of the purpose of such an extraordinary structure.
Does this indicate that the presses were made by people from other countries with their own way of doing things, or by individual local families each with its own traditional method of constructing a press? At present no one knows the answer.
The jetty, and the deep water which would allow ships to approach the coast, suggests that the people might have been producing date syrup on a commercial scale. But where the date plantations were located – whether in Qatar or elsewhere – is at present anyone’s guess.
That the settlement dates back some hundreds of years is known from the name Rubaqa, which is recorded in the 1760s, and from the earliest pottery found –  16th century Julfar ware from Ras al Khaimah in the UAE.
Middens [refuse mounds associated with occupation] contain ash and layers of detritus containing fragments of pottery and animal bone, which indicate a long occupation period. Samples have been taken for Carbon 14 dating, and these should yield more definite information as to the age of the site. The potsherds themselves illustrate how wide was the trade with other countries: besides the Julfar ware there are fragments of glazed pottery from China and Burma and pottery from Iraq and Iran. The ceramic tops of shisha – the local ‘hubbly-bubbly’ pipes — confirm that tobacco was being imported.
A series of small, clay-lined pits filled with ash were perhaps used for cooking, although this is not certain. Analysis of the contents will shed more light on their purpose. 
Two areas of building were excavated this year, one of housing and another constituting a large, irregularly shaped walled area, designated a ‘fort’ by the archaeologists as it was clearly defensive, with what had been a single, well-constructed corner tower – on the land ward, not the seaward side. It had been demolished at some period and the stones taken away to be re-used, but the solid foundations remain. The fortified area appears to be older than the rest of the settlement. 
Embedded in the rubble of the walls of the ‘fort’ was a large cannon ball! History records many instances of attack along this stretch of coast in the 18th and 19th centuries – some a response to piracy, others for political causes – and the discovery of the  cannonball, with another awaiting excavation, demonstrates that life was not always peaceful in Rubaqa. Even more exciting was the discovery of a cache of 19 fine quality Indian silver rupees, wrapped in a cotton bag and pushed into a crevice in the wall of a mosque. Whoever so carefully hid his savings there never returned to reclaim them. The coins, which bear the head of Queen Victoria on one side, date to the 1860-1880s.
Other coins found on the site include some from the Ottoman period of the 19th century, along with some from Iran, and the first Qatari coins from the 1930s, showing how long the site was occupied. In the remains of the mosque, which includes a large open prayer ground and another inner, smaller prayer room, was a fragment of plaster with a verse from the Qur’an written on it.
The archaeologists excavated right down to bed rock, and there they found a number of pits, presumed to be post-holes for buildings, cut right into the rock. To cut these must have been a laborious task, and at present the archaeologist have no clue as to their date or purpose. Further excavations may provide an answer. But meanwhile, Rubaqa guards its secrets.

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By Fran Gillespie/Doha

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Topic: AncientSeeds# 2

My thoughts:

A reader sent me this information on an ancient date palm, which if only 2.000 years is a fantastic event. That seeds remain viable that long be it 2,000 or 4,000 years gives me hope that no matter what we will survive globel warming with sources of food at hand. I wanted to share this with you as well I will be checking out the seed exchanges and write more onthat soon.

 2005-06-12 04:00:00 PST Kibbutz Ketura, Israel — It has five leaves, stands 14 inches high and is nicknamed Methuselah. It looks like an ordinary date palm seedling, but for UCLA- educated botanist Elaine Solowey, it is a piece of history brought back to life.

Planted on Jan. 25, the seedling growing in the black pot in Solowey’s nursery on this kibbutz in Israel’s Arava desert is 2,000 years old — more than twice as old as the 900-year-old biblical character who lent his name to the young tree. It is the oldest seed ever known to produce a viable young tree.

The seed that produced Methuselah was discovered during archaeological excavations at King Herod’s palace on Mount Masada, near the Dead Sea. Its age has been confirmed by carbon dating. Scientists hope that the unique seedling will eventually yield vital clues to the medicinal properties of the fruit of the Judean date tree, which was long thought to be extinct.

Solowey, originally from San Joaquin (Fresno County), teaches at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies at Kibbutz Ketura, where she has nurtured more than 100 rare or near-extinct species back to life as part of a 10-year project to study plants and herbs used as ancient cures.

In collaboration with the Louis L. Borick Natural Medicine Center at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, named in honor of its Southern California- based benefactor, Solowey grows plants and herbs used in Tibetan, Chinese and biblical medicine, as well as traditional folk remedies from other cultures to see whether their effectiveness can be scientifically proved.

In experiments praised by the Dalai Lama, for example, Borick Center Director Sarah Sallon has shown that ancient Tibetan cures for cardiovascular disease really do work.

The San Francisco Chronicle was granted the first viewing of the historic seedling, which sprouted about four weeks after planting. It has grown six leaves, but one has been removed for DNA testing so scientists can learn more about its relationship to its modern-day cousins.

The Judean date is chronicled in the Bible, Quran and ancient literature for its diverse powers — from an aphrodisiac to a contraceptive — and as a cure for a wide range of diseases including cancer, malaria and toothache.

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SFGATE.COM Article collections

June 12, 2005|By Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

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