Tuesday, June 17, 2008
The 4-foot-tall sapling looks just like any other young date palm. But the tree, growing in a laboratory in Jerusalem, is anything but ordinary. Named "Methuselah" by one of its cultivators, the sapling grew from a 2,000-year-old seed - the oldest scientifically dated seed to ever be germinated. In a study reported last week in the journal Science, a team of Israeli researchers confirmed the seed's age using radiocarbon dating, which determines age by measuring levels of a type of carbon found in all living organisms that decays at a specific rate.
The Methuselah seed, named after the oldest person in the Bible, was recovered 40 years ago, along with other seeds, from an archeological dig at Masada, an ancient stronghold where nearly 1,000 Jewish zealots are said to have committed suicide rather than be captured by Roman soldiers around AD 70. The seeds sat in a drawer until 2005, when Israeli scientist Dr. Sarah Sallon procured them for study. She and botanist Elaine Solowey planted three seeds and held their breath. Eight weeks later, the first shoots poked through the soil.