Methuselah is a date palm that Dr. Elaine Solowey sprouted from a 2,000-year-old date seed. This seed, among others, was found during the excavations of Masada in the mid 1960’s. In 2005, several of these seeds were obtained by the Louis L. Borick Natural Medicine Research Center of the Hadassah Medical Organization, which gave them to Dr. Elaine Solowey at the Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Dr. Solowey successfully germinated one of these seeds, which sprouted into a young date palm.
Initially thought to be botanically impossible, this successful project has been featured in the New York Times, National Geographic, and other publications. Today, Methuselah has a permanent home in the Arava Institute research park on Kibbutz Ketura. In the future, the hope is for Methuselah, a male tree, to be bred with a female to produce the same date variety eaten commonly in ancient Judea, where it was valued as much for its delicious flavor as for its medicinal properties.
THE STORY OF METHUSELAH: THE DATE PALM SPROUTED FROM A 2000 YEAR OLD SEED
Ancient date seeds were discovered in the 1960’s during Professor Yigal Yadin’s archaeological excavations of Masada, King Herod’s famous palace on the shore of the Dead Sea. The seeds were completely buried under rubble for centuries. Discovered at the entrance to the Northern Palace close to ancient food stores, the seeds were radio-carbon dated to approximately 2000 years ago; perhaps they were consumed by the rebels who took refuge at Masada during the Great Revolt against the Romans in the 1st Jewish War (66-73 AD).
For over 40 years the seeds were kept in storage, until in 2005 an opportunity was created to try the unbelievable. Dr. Sarah Sallon, Director of the Louis L Borick Natural Medicine Research Center of Hadassah Hospital, initiated and designed this project aimed to germinate ancient seeds found on archaeological sites in an effort to reintroduce extinct plants previously grown in the region. Dr Sallon explained, “Other researchers have grown plants from ancient seeds before, including a 1000 year old Lotus, but these seeds from Masada were the very oldest ever to be germinated.”
Dr. Elaine Solowey, founder of the Center for Sustainable Agriculture at the Arava Institute for Environmental Research, took on the challenge of sprouting the seed. The seeds were first soaked in enzymatic water and fertilizer, then planted in sterile potting soil.
What had seemed impossible came to be! In March 2005; one of the ancient date seeds germinated, becoming the oldest seed in the world successfully sprouted. Dr. Sallon named the seedling “Methusaleh,” after the oldest person mentioned in the Bible.
Following publication of the research project in the prestigious journal “Science,” in June, 2008, Methuselah attracted international attention and was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.
In November 2011, Methuselah was transferred from its pot in the greenhouse and replanted in its current site at Kibbutz Ketura during a special ceremony.
The Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera) is an important symbol in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Methuselah represents a variety of date palm that was grown in ancient Judea but disappeared many hundreds of years ago. Extensively described in antiquity, its image appeared on coins and synagogues as a symbol of the region while its fruits were famous for their taste, large size and medicinal properties.
The fronds of the ancient “Judean” date palm, now re-germinated in Methuselah, are probably of the same variety brought by Pilgrims to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. The ancient date seed from which Methusaleh sprouted existed at a time when the teachings of Jesus were beginning to spread.
Sallon, S., Solowey, E., Cohen, Y., Korchinsky, R., Egli, M., Woodhatch, I., … Kislev, M. (2008). Germination, Genetics, and Growth of an Ancient Date Seed. Science, 320(5882), 1464–1464. doi: 10.1126/science.1153600