Jerusalem researchers have succeeded in sprouting 2000 year old seeds found in several excavations around the Dead Sea. Six plants that still don’t bear fruit but that we could taste in the future, to improve the current varieties.
The seeds of time
It is not the first success of botanists and geneticists in such a venture. In 2008 a palm tree plant (which was called Methuselah, Methusalem) was made to germinate. The seed came from Herod’s palace. This time, an international research team, led by Sarah Sallon of the Natural Medicine Research Center in Jerusalem, selected 34 seeds from archaeological excavations across the country at Masada, the ancient fortress built by Herod, and other warehouses around the Dead Sea: Qumran, Wadi Makukh, and Wadi Kelt. Agricultural deposits, destined to become a precious archive of time.
They soaked them in water and fertilizer, then planted them in sterile soil. And six of those seeds generated green shoots and the first leaves. To each of them scientists gave a name, obviously Jewish: Adam, Qumran, Jonah, Uriel, Boaz, and Judith whose seeds were collected in Masada. Hannah is from Wadi Makukh.
The disappearance and rediscovery
According to documents, date palms around the year 1000, after the fall of the Roman Empire and the Arab conquest of the region, declined and almost disappeared in this area. This could be a first step for a rediscovery, even if for now the plants that have been cultivated do not bear fruit. But the project is to pollinate the females to make them produce them. In addition to having the opportunity to taste the juicy dates of ancient Judea, more varieties can be developed and cultivated than today, selecting and improving them also in resistance to diseases.
The “highlander” DNA
Another aspect that has intrigued scientists is the DNA of seeds. In 2000 years of history it has been preserved so well that it has been possible to make them germinate: “To make them germinate the DNA must be intact, which goes against much of what we know about how it is preserved – explained Science Nathan Wales archaeogenetist at the University of York, not involved in the study – it is not impossible that there is some exceptional biological system at work that preserves it. The climatic conditions in the area may also have played a role, especially the dry heat that has preserved so well, for example, the ancient texts of Qumran, known as “Dead Sea Scrolls”. To this is added the XL size of the seeds, where the greater amount of genetic heritage would have made its conservation ‘statistically’ more likely.