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Friday, May 23, 2014

Methuselah - Ancient Date Tree from Masada - Watch the Film!

Whenever I visit Masada, which I do frequently, I talk about the ancient Judean date pits which were found in the store rooms by the archeologist Yigal Yadin back in the mid-1960's.  More specifically I mention Methuselah, the 2000 year old date pit which is growing on Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava.

For thousands of years, Judean date trees were one of the most recognizable and welcome sights for people living in the Middle East -- widely cultivated throughout the region for their sweet fruit, and for the cool shade they offered from the blazing desert sun.
The Judea Capta Coin minted after the destruction of Judea - the woman sitting under the date palm signified Judea
 
From its founding some 3,000 years ago, to the dawn of the Common Era, the trees became a staple crop in the Kingdom of Judea. Judean palm trees would come to serve as one of the kingdom's chief symbols of good fortune; King David named his daughter, Tamar, after the plant's name in Hebrew.
By the time the Roman Empire sought to usurp control of the kingdom in 70 AD, broad forests of these trees flourished as a staple crop to the Judean economy -- a fact that made them a prime resource for the invading army to destroy. Sadly, around the year 500 AD, the once plentiful fruit trees had been, driven to extinction for the sake of conquest.

In the centuries that followed, first-hand knowledge of the tree slipped from memory to legend. Up until recently, that is.
During excavations at the site of Herod's palace in Israel in the early 1960's, archeologists unearthed a small stockpile of seeds stowed in a clay jar dating back 2,000 years. For the next four decades, the ancient seeds were kept in a drawer at Tel Aviv's Bar-Ilan University. But then, in 2005, botanical researcher Elaine Solowey decided to plan some and see what, if anything, would sprout.
"I assumed the food in the seed would be no good after all that time. How could it be?" She was soon proven to be wrong.

Amazingly, the multi-millennial seed did indeed sprout -- producing a sapling no one had seen in centuries. Today, the living archeological treasure continues to grow and thrive; In 2011, it even produced its first flower -- a heartening sign that the ancient survivor was eager to reproduce. It has been proposed that the tree be cross-bred with closely related palm types, but it would likely take years for it to begin producing any of its famed fruits. Meanwhile, Solowey is working to revive other age-old trees from their long dormancy.



Methusalah, October 2014
 Picture by Jill Rosenfield