Treasure Trove: David Matlow explores the miracle of ancient date trees brought back to life

The date palm is one of the seven species that the Land of Israel is blessed with, according to the Bible, along with wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates and olives. 

The date palm of ancient Judaea disappeared centuries ago. In the 1960s and 1970s, ancient date seeds which were radiocarbon dated to the 4th to 1st centuries BCE were found during archaeological excavations of Masada and in caves in the Judean desert.

The seeds sat in storage for over forty years until Dr. Sarah Sallon of Hadassah Hospital and Dr. Elaine Solowey of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Kibbutz Ketura began to germinate the ancient seeds to bring the tree and its fruit back from extinction. 

They worked on this project for 15 years and in 2020 their efforts were successful.  A male tree they named Methuselah grown from a seed found on Masada was used to pollinate the flowers of a female tree they named Hanna discovered in Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. These dates from 2,000-year-old seeds were the result.

Israel is truly a land of miracles.