During Yigal Yadin’s excavations of Masada in the mid 1960’s, ancient date seeds were discovered beneath rubble at the Northern Palace approach. After being kept in storage for over 40 years, a project initiated by Dr. Sarah Sallon, Director of the Louis L. Borick Natural Medicine Research Center of Hadassah Hospital, aimed to germinate ancient seeds found on archaeological sites in an effort to reintroduce extinct plants previously grown in the region. As part of this endeavor, Dr. Elaine Solowey, Director of the Center for Sustainable Agriculture at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, succeeded in germinating one of these ancient date seeds in 2005, initially thought to be botanically impossible. Dubbed Methuselah it was the oldest seed ever grown attracting wide international attention.

After the successful germination of the first seed, Dr. Solowey and Dr. Sallon took to replicating the experiment. 32 additional intact seeds were chosen, out of which 6 sprouted. The seeds were germinated by warming and hydrating them slowly and gradually. They were then dosed with Gibberellic acid, a growth-promoting plant hormone, and enzymatic fertilizer.

In early 2019, three of the six trees named by Dr. Solowey Adam, Jonah and Hannah were moved out of their greenhouse home to be planted outdoors at the Arava Institute’s Daniel Fischel & Sylvia Neil Research & Visitors’ Park.

The first tree, Methuselah, was discovered to be male. Luckily two of the subsequent trees were revealed by DNA testing as females. The next stage of research will be the attempt to use Methuselah’s pollen to pollinate one of the new germinated ancient females. What kind of dates will be produced, and whether they match the historical fame of the Judean date and their medicinal properties, all remain to be seen.

To read the full paper on Origins and insights into the historic Judean date palm based on genetic analysis of germinated ancient seeds and morphometric studies by Sarah Sallon et al., please refer to Science Advances.

Methusaleh and all the ancient date trees can be visited by contacting Keren Kolot.

To donate to Dr. Solowey’s ancient dates research project, click here.

To read about Dr. Solowey’s work to protect other endangered plant species click here.

For more information and/or interview requests, please contact Institute Deputy Director Eliza Mayo.

In the news

After 2,000 Years, These Seeds Have Finally Sprouted

by Sarah Zang – The Atlantic, Feb. 5th, 2020
“Their names are Adam, Jonah, Uriel, Boaz, Judith, and Hannah, and their ages are – well, actually, this one’s a bit complicated.”

Scientists in Israel grow date plants from 2,000-year-old seeds

by Nicola David – The Guardian, Feb. 5th, 2020

“A handful of date seeds from fruit that ripened around the time of Jesus have been successfully planted and grown in southern Israel, researchers have revealed.”

Dates Like Jesus Ate? Scientists Revive Ancient Trees From 2,000-Year-Old Seeds

by Dan Charles – npr, Feb. 6th, 2020

“The world’s most remarkable date palm trees might not exist if Sarah Sallon hadn’t gotten sick while working as a doctor in India in 1986. Antibiotics didn’t help. What cured here, she thinks, were some traditional herbal remedies.”

Scientists successfully grew plants from 2,000- year- old seedstes Like Jesus Ate? Scientists Revive Ancient Trees From 2,000-Year-Old Seeds

by Pranjal Mehar – Tech Explorist, Feb. 8th, 2020

“The date palm has a historical distribution stretching from Mauritania in the west to the Indus Valley in the east. Archaeobotanical records suggest that the earliest exploitation and consumption of dates is from the Arabian Neolithic some 7000 years before the present.”

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