Israeli doctors and scientists have succeeded in germinating a date seed nearly 2,000 years old.
The seed, nicknamed Methuselah, was taken from an excavation at Masada, the cliff fortress where, in A.D. 73, 960 Jewish zealots died by their own hand, rather than surrender to a Roman assault. The point is to find out what was so exceptional about the original date palm of Judea, much praised in the Bible and the Koran for its shade, food, beauty and medicinal qualities, but long ago destroyed by the crusaders.
“The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree,” says Psalm 92. “They shall still bring forth fruit in old age. They shall be fat and flourishing.”
Well, we’ll see. Dr. Sarah Sallon, who runs a project on medicinal plants of the Middle East, notes that the date palm in ancient times symbolized the tree of life. But Dr. Elaine Solowey, who germinated the seed and is growing it in quarantine, says plants grown from ancient seeds “usually keel over and die soon,” having used most of their nutrients in remaining alive.
The plant is now 11.8 inches tall and has produced seven leaves, one of which was removed for DNA testing. Radiocarbon dating in Switzerland on a snip of the seed showed it to be 1,990 years old, plus or minus 50 years. So the date seed dates from 35 B.C. to A.D. 65, just before the famed Roman siege.