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"A lotus seed was germinated (in China) after 1,200 years, but nothing has been germinated coming from this far back, not to 2,000 years," she said.
Michael Kruse, a seed historian at the University of Hohenheim in Germany, said he was not familiar with the research, but said if the claim is true, the date palm seed would be the oldest germinated in the world.
Carbon dating of a fragment from the Masada seeds put their age at between 1,940 and 2,040 years
The Roman natural historian Pliny records plentiful date forests between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, and the dates of Judaea were praised as increasing longevity, as an aphrodisiac, for curing infections and as a laxative, before dying out in the Middle Ages. The Prophet Mohamed stressed the date's importance as a vital food and for medicine. It is described in the Koran as a "symbol of goodness".
Israeli researchers believe it could help them to generate new medicines by uncovering the secret of why the ancient Judaean palm Phoenix dactylifera was so valued for its health-giving properties as well as its beauty and the protection it offered from the sun.
Sallon said the project is more than a curiosity. She and her colleagues hope it may hold promise for the future, like the anti-malarial treatment artemisinin, developed out of traditional Chinese plant treatment, and a cancer drug made from the bark of the Pacific Yew tree.