The world’s oldest viable seed is now a tree 8 feet tall. The Methuselah palm, discovered in the 1960s as a seed at the Judean fortress of Masada, sprouted in 2005 under controlled conditions. It is the oldest seed verified by radiocarbon dating to be 2,000 years old – from the time the Romans were besieging the mountain fortress built by Herod the Great.
The Jerusalem Post1 reported that the palm tree, now 2.5 meters tall, has been transplanted to a kibbutz in the Arava (Jordan rift) in southern Israel, where botanists will analyze its genetic lineage for clues. They expect the tree (the first of several that sprouted) will produce edible fruit and perhaps medicinal compounds, which were valued in ancient times. Modern date palms from the region are genetically different from the ones known to the ancients, which disappeared from the land in the time of the Crusaders. These trees are depicted on Roman coins from the period. “The species was known then to have therapeutic qualities and a delicious taste,” the Jerusalem Post said.
Wikipedia considers this the oldest viable seed directly dated by radiocarbon. Other contenders are claimed anecdotally to be 3,000 or 4,000 years old, but proof is lacking.
1. Hat tip to Bible Places Blog for this lead.
Could humans create a car that could still drive after 2,000 years? This is truly amazing. A seed – a tiny package of life, containing molecular machines and a library of code – still worked, despite millennia of cosmic rays and other mutagens. This means that DNA repair mechanisms must have still been at work inside this dormant package. Don’t underestimate the wonder of seeds.
It would be historic to taste a date shake from the Methuselah tree. Just hope they don’t start a new line of Christmas fruitcakes with it. So that we don’t end on a bad taste, here’s a joke, or shall we say, j-oak. Q: What does an acorn say when it grows up? A: Geometry.