Israeli researchers have managed to successfully germinate extinct plants from more than 2,000-year-old date seeds. The seeds were found in archaeological sites in the Judean desert near the dry area of the Dead Sea, including the fortress of the Masada hill built by the King Herod the Great in the first century BCE, and the ancient site of Qumran, famous for the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered there in the 1940s.
Six plants were born from the 32 seeds that researchers sowed. "The germination of these 2,000-year-old Phoenix dactylifera seeds offers a unique opportunity to study the Judea date palm, which was well known in ancient times thanks to the quality, size, and medicinal properties of its fruit, but which was lost for centuries." The researchers wrote the finding in an article published in the Science Advances journal.
Radiocarbon dating revealed that the seeds used for the project came from a period spanning from the 4th century BCE to the 2nd century. A subsequent analysis found that the seeds had a genetic composition of several places that extended eastward across the region and extended to present-day Iraq.
Date palm cultivation in southern Mesopotamia began more than 6,000 years ago and researchers speculate that exiles who returned after the collapse of the Babylonian empire in 539 BCE may have brought this specialized knowledge and selected cultivars to Judea.
Dry conditions in the Dead Sea region could have helped the seeds survive two millennia without losing their growth capacity.
Some of the seeds produced female plants that scientists now expect to pollinate from a male date tree, called Methuselah for the long-lived biblical character, and which grew from a 1,900-year-old seed in 2008.