Thursday, February 06, 2020

More ancient date palms have sprouted

TU B'SHEVAT IS THIS WEEKEND: After 2,000 Years, These Seeds Have Finally Sprouted. Six date seeds as old as the Dead Sea Scrolls are now flourishing as trees on a kibbutz (Sarah Zhang, The Atlantic).
Adam, Jonah, Uriel, Boaz, Judith, and Hannah are date-palm trees, and although they were all planted in recent years, the seeds from which they germinated all came from ancient archaeological sites. These seeds, according to radiocarbon dating, were about 2,000 years old. They had waited two millennia to sprout.

The seeds of Judean date palms turn out to have remarkable longevity. A team led by Sarah Sallon, which planted these six trees, first tried in 2005 to germinate a 2,000-year-old seed from the ancient fortress of Masada. To the surprise and delight of Sallon and her colleagues, it sprouted, and they named that first date-palm tree Methuselah, who in the Bible lived to the age of 969.
Past PaleoJudaica posts on Methuselah the date palm are here and links. The first post also discusses the work of Dr Sallon which led to the new crop of ancient palm trees.

The Atlantic article, with many other media treatments, is based on an article published recently in the journal Science Advances (6.6, 2020): Origins and insights into the historic Judean date palm based on genetic analysis of germinated ancient seeds and morphometric studies (Sarah Sallon,, Emira Cherif, Nathalie Chabrillange, Elaine Solowey, Muriel Gros-Balthazard4,, Sarah Ivorra, Jean-Frédéric Terral, Markus Egli and Frédérique Aberlenc).
Germination of 2000-year-old seeds of Phoenix dactylifera from Judean desert archaeological sites provides a unique opportunity to study the Judean date palm, described in antiquity for the quality, size, and medicinal properties of its fruit, but lost for centuries. Microsatellite genotyping of germinated seeds indicates that exchanges of genetic material occurred between the Middle East (eastern) and North Africa (western) date palm gene pools, with older seeds exhibiting a more eastern nuclear genome on a gradient from east to west of genetic contributions. Ancient seeds were significantly longer and wider than modern varieties, supporting historical records of the large size of the Judean date. These findings, in accord with the region’s location between east and west date palm gene pools, suggest that sophisticated agricultural practices may have contributed to the Judean date’s historical reputation. Given its exceptional storage potentialities, the date palm is a remarkable model for seed longevity research.

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