The Two Thousand Year Old Seed


Judean Date Palm, grown from an ancient seed
By Benjitheijneb (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Liz Waid and Colin Lowther look at the Judean Date Palm Tree. Botanists are trying to grow this extinct tree.

Transcript


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Colin Lowther. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

The plant sits in a black container. It is green, and has only five leaves. This plant looks like any other new plant. But it is different. This plant grew from a seed that was 2,000 years old! Scientists are studying it to learn more about ancient medicine. Today’s Spotlight is on this ancient plant, the Judean date palm.

Voice 2 

The story of this particular plant begins about 40 years ago with a group of archaeologists. Archaeologists study very old places and things. In the 1960s, a group of archaeologists were digging around an ancient building near the Dead Sea. They were investigating a large building - a palace - on Mount Masada. An ancient king had built this palace many years ago.

Voice 1 

Mount Masada has a sad history. Over 2,000 years ago Romans took control of areas around the Dead Sea. The Roman soldiers damaged or destroyed a lot of property. But a small group of people rebelled against the Roman army. This group of people stayed at Mount Masada. There, they avoided the armies of Roman soldiers. They did not want the Roman soldiers to capture them. And in the end, they all killed themselves. However, before the rebels took their own lives, they carefully stored their food. They wanted the world to know that they had not died of hunger.

Voice 2 

While digging at Mount Masada, archaeologists found this store of ancient food. Inside one container there were some ancient fruits and their seeds. Plant scientists, or botanists, identified the seeds as seeds from the Judean date palm tree.

Voice 1 

In ancient times, people believed that this kind of date palm tree had special healing qualities. In fact, they called the Judean date palm tree the “tree of life.” They believed that parts of this tree could cure a pain in a person’s tooth, malaria, and even cancer! They believed it made people desire sex and it could also help women avoid becoming pregnant. The Judean date palm tree is even in some ancient writings. The Bible, the Koran and other ancient writings tell about the good qualities of the tree.

Voice 2 

Two thousand years ago Judean Date palms grew in many places around the Dead Sea. But today, this tree is extinct. There are no more of these trees anywhere in the world. People around the Dead Sea import other date palms from places like California in the United States. Scientists believed that the ancient Judean date palm tree was gone forever.

Voice 1 

Scientists estimated that the seeds the archaeologists found were over 2,000 years old. Tests confirmed that they were. Often seeds this old cannot grow. But they are still interesting to study. So, the botanists, or plant scientists, stored these ancient seeds in a safe place to study later.

Voice 2 

Doctor Elaine Solowey lives in the community of Kibbutz Ketura in the Middle East. She is a botanist. She works with seeds and plants that are near extinction. The seeds and plants she works with are the last of their kind. She has already saved more than one hundred different kinds of plants from extinction. Her goal is to study the seeds and plants that ancient people used for cures.

Voice 1 

Doctor Sarah Sallon is also from the Middle East. She is an expert in natural medicine. Sallon investigates whether ancient cures are effective. She heard about these ancient seeds from the archaeological dig at Mount Masada. Sallon told Solowey about the interesting seeds. They wanted to try to grow one into a plant. Sallon asked for a few of the seeds from the storage place. She told Matthew Kalman of the Chronicle Foreign Service:

Voice 3

“When we asked if we could try and grow some of the seeds they said ‘you are insane!’. But they gave us three seeds.”

Voice 2 

The doctors prepared the long, thin, brown seeds for planting. First, they put the seeds into warm water.  Then they added growth chemicals to the water. These chemicals kept the plant healthy and encouraged it to grow good roots. Then, on January 25, 2005, they planted the seed in fresh sterile soil.

Voice 1 

For five weeks, they carefully cared for the small seed.  Then, one day, a small green leaf began to rise out of the soil! Doctor Solowey told the Chronicle Foreign Service:

Voice 4

“The leaves were light, almost white and green. The first two leaves did not look normal. They were very flat and very light. The third leaf started to have the markings of a normal date plant. Now it looks perfectly normal to me. The only difference between this date seedling and other date seedlings I have studied is the length of the third leaf. That leaf is very unusual.”

Voice 2 

Doctor Sallon and Doctor Solowey called the tree Methuselah. This name comes from the Bible. The Bible says Methuselah lived to be over 900 years old.

Voice 1

The doctors hoped to study the fruit of the Methuselah date palm tree. If the Judean date palm is able to produce any medicine, the medicine will come from the date fruit. However, there is a small problem in getting a date fruit. In March 2012, Doctor Solowey explained to the news organization greenprophet.com:

Voice 4 

“Methuselah is now over two and a half meters tall. It has produced flowers. But he is a male. We are considering breeding him to the closest modern plant relative. This is the Hiyani date from Egypt. We hope to have fruit within ten years.”

Voice 2 

The Methuselah date palm is exciting for medical doctors and historians. But it is also exciting for people from the Middle East. Doctor Solowey and Doctor Sallon hope that soon many Judean date palm trees will grow again in the area around the Dead Sea.

Voice 1 

Today the growing Methuselah Judean date palm tree is planted at Kibbutz Ketura. It sits, planted in the ground, with a fence around it. This is a major achievement. But Doctor Solowey and Doctor Sallon are waiting to celebrate. Doctor Sallon tells National Geographic Magazine:

Voice 3 

“We will celebrate when there is peace in the Middle East. We will celebrate when all people in this area can plant these trees together, and share any medicinal benefits it brings.”

Voice 2 

The writer of this program was Liz Waid. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘The Two Thousand Year Old Seed.’.

Voice 1 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

What is the most interesting plant you have ever seen? Do you like to grow plants?

Comments


Luis Piedra's avatar
Luis Piedra
said on October 24, 2013

I think it’s impotant to bring to life to a tree that had a cherised value in ancient times for its medicinal contibutions.
Thanks Spotlight

Avatar Spotlight
thanhdung07121985@gmail.com
said on October 25, 2013

I am surprised a 2 000 year seed can grow a plant.And it brings many benefit for medicine.
Hope batonist can prolong its life and prevent extinction for this special plant .

Avatar Spotlight
CharlesOlavo
said on May 11, 2016

Thanks Spotlight for share this episode, I like very much, I aways listen
and helpfull

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on May 14, 2016

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight program
Subject: answer to the question above
Date: Saturday 14, May 2016
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Liz Waid, Colin Lowther, and Michio Ozaki:

Once more, I want to thank you to developed more one great issue for us readers and learners of English. Thanks!
The most interesting plant that I have seen was the mango plant. This type of plant is very interesting because it has a lot of leaves and red mangoes ready to eat directly from the nature. Although, in the universe there are a lot of interesting plants to admire.

Yours regards,
Severino Ramos
Brazil

Kaleb Kolaibi's avatar
Kaleb Kolaibi
said on May 21, 2016

I like green colour in nature but Im not interesging about grow or kinds or smiles of plant.
Respect