Researchers Resurrect 2,000-Year-Old Variety of Date Palm
For the first time in two millennia, a long extinct variety of Judean date can be enjoyed once again. Using seeds dating back to the time of the Great Jewish Revolt (66–70 C.E.), researchers from the Arava Institutute for Environmental Studies in Israel planted an experimental date grove at a nearby kibbutz in 2005. The grove began bearing fruit last year, producing a variety of date not tasted for millennia.
In the 1960s, Yigael Yadin’s excavations at Masada uncovered several seeds buried and preserved at the time of the Roman conquest. Further excavation at Qumran uncovered dozens more seeds similarly preserved in the dry conditions of the Dead Sea. In 2005, researchers at the Arava Institute planted dozens of these ancient seeds and, to their delight, six eventually sprouted. Even more incredible, the new trees turned out to be a mix of both male and female plants, allowing for pollination and fruit. The first date harvest came in 2020, with a larger harvest occurring this year.
Plant breeds come into and out of existence far more often than we might assume. The common banana sold in supermarkets today, for instance, is only around 70 years old. Similarly, while the well-known Medjool date was first grown in America in the early 1900s, some have suggested it was first cultivated in Arabia more than 6,000 years ago. This does not mean, however, that all dates in the past were of this variety, and as this experiment has shown, the dates cultivated in Judea in the first century C.E. were different than those grown in the region today.
So what do 2,000-year-old dates taste like? According to the researchers, they look similar to the Medjool date, but have a sweeter, honey-like flavor. In coming years, the team hopes to increase the size of the grove (and the yield) so that more people can give them a try.
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