The ancient Judean Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera)
Resurrected from extinction at Kibbutz Ketura, Israel in 2005
Two Israeli grandmothers, Sarah Sallon and Elaine Solowey, worked together to resurrect the extinct Judean Date Palm tree from a handful of 2,000 year old date palm seeds.
The Judean Date Palm had been extinct for centuries, when Sarah Sallon convinced curators at Hebrew University to let her have some of their 2,000 year old Judean Date Palm seeds.
The seeds had been in storage at Hebrew University for the previous 40 years. Sarah Sallon said she wanted to try planting the seeds to see if they could grow. The old men at the university said she was crazy, but let her have some of the seeds anyway.
The seeds had been excavated in 1963 and 1965 by an expedition led by Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin at King Herod’s two palaces high on top of an isolated rock plateau, the mountaintop fortress of Masada, located on the eastern edge of the Judaean Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea.
The fragile, ancient date palm seeds had been found in a clay jar buried deep underground in a cool, dry collapsed food storage room at Masada.
According to Josephus, Masada was besieged by the Roman 10th Legion from 73 to 74 CE, at the close of the First Jewish–Roman War, and ended with the mass suicide of the 960 Sicarii rebels and their families who were hiding there.
Sarah Sallon, the silver tongued deal maker, cajoled the seeds from the old men at the university, and gave the seeds to her friend, Elaine Solowey, the soon to be legendary botanist, at little Kibbutz Ketura, in the Jordan Rift Valley between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea.
Sarah Sallon conceived of the idea, designed the study, and wrote it for science. Elaine Solowey then planted three of the small ancient seeds in sterile, uncontaminated fine black potting soil in her laboratory greenhouse at Kibbutz Ketura, Israel on January 22, 2005.
The first signs of life appeared on March 18, 2005, when one of the seeds sprouted, and suddenly became the oldest known tree seed ever to germinate and grow into a living tree. Sarah and Elaine named the little seedling “Methuselah.”
According to the Book of Genesis, Methuselah was the grandfather of Noah, who built the ark. Methuselah lived to be 969 years old, and was the longest living person in the Bible.
“Methuselah,” the 2,000 year old male Judean Date Palm seed, is the oldest seed ever to grow into a living plant. This makes “Methuselah,” the date palm seed, more than twice as old as Methuselah, the grandfather of Noah, in the Book of Genesis.
Today, “Methuselah,” the small, fragile seed has grown to become a big, strong, tall tree – 20 feet tall so far – and “Methuselah” has since reproduced offspring, and continues to thrive under the watchful care of two devoted Jewish grandmothers.
Other archaeological excavations, this time by Israeli archaeologist Joseph Patrich in a wadi north of Jericho, near Qumran, the site of the Jewish Essene scriptorium and the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls, has produced other finds of ancient Judean Date Palm seeds.
At last count, Sarah Sallon and Elaine Solowey have produced a total of five strong Judean Date Palm trees, produced at Kibbutz Ketura from 2,000 year old Judean Date Palm seeds.
All five small, fragile seeds have germinated and are growing into strong, viable, living trees – three male trees (Methuselah, Adam, and Jonah) and two female trees (Hannah and Judith).
So far, the production of Judean Date Palm dates is heavy and growing stronger. The hope is that someday ancient Judean Date Palm trees will be producing thousands of pounds of dates for the people of the world.
Dr. Sarah Sallon is Director of the Natural Medicine Research Center at Hadassah Medical Center in Jersusalem, founded by the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.
Hadassah Medical Center operates two university hospitals at Ein Kerem and Mount Scopus in Jerusalem and schools of medicine, dentistry, nursing, and pharmacology in partnership with Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Dr. Elaine Solowey is Director of the Center for Sustainable Agriculture, dedicated to the investigation and preservation of arid lands and their natural resources, at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies.
The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies is located at Kibbutz Ketura in the sparsely populated Arava Valley, part of the Jordan Rift Valley, that connects the Dead Sea with the Red Sea, and forms the border between Israel and Jordan.