THE HISTORY OF THE DATE

The date palm tree, Phoenix Dactylifera, is one of the oldest fruit trees in the world. There are hundreds of varieties of dates with hundreds of different names, with varying degrees of sweetness and storage qualities.  Among the more important dates for the desert people are the driest dates which have characteristics that allow it to be used as a type of flour. The most widely grown date is the Deglet Noor.

The date palm tree has been around for thousands of years and is referenced in the in ancient scripts and it is referenced by western and middle eastern religions. It is known that dates were cultivated about six thousand years ago and they are mentioned in the Careen and Bible.  Islam regards the date palm tree as the tree of life which is mentioned in the story of Genesis.  The date is not as well known in the west as other fruits such as the apple, but it is very important to the Middle East and the Sahara Desert. The fruit is very important in the Arabian and North African Countries because the date palm tree grows well in the dry desert heat. In the past dates took a very important role for certain desert regions as the staple food crop.  It was comparable to rice, wheat, and potatoes in other cultures.

The date palm is a perennial, the females of which normally begin to bear dates within an average about four to years from the time of planting of the offshoot. The date palm tree can live to the age of 150 years. On a commercial scale, the top date producing regions are the Middle East and North Africa. Iraq was growing about 80 percent of the world's dates and it was a strong symbol used in its currency and stamps. Saudi Arabia is another major producer of dates and their national symbol also has date palm trees. The same is true for Tunisia and Algeria which also portray the date on their stamps and currency. 

Dates are now grown in Southern California, Southwestern Arizona, north of Las Vegas, Nevada in parts of Mexico, Southern Peru, northern Chile in South America, near Alice Springs in Australia,  Western China, Western India, southern Pakistan and Iran is now thought to be the world's No. 1 producer of dates.

According to the World Food and Agricultural Organization, there are an estimated 100 million date palm trees worldwide.  An estimated 62 million date palm trees can be found in the Arab world. It is not known where the date palm tree originated.Some experts believe that date palm first originated in Babel Iraq, while others believe that it originated in Dareen or Hofuf,Saudi Arabia or Harqan, an island on the Arabian Gulf in Bahrain. To date intensive research pertaining to the origin, biology and habitat of the tree has not identified the original home of the date palm tree and no wild date palms have been identified either.

Fossil records show that the date palm tree was widespread throughout the Mediterranean during the Eocene period.  Unlike other fruit trees there is very little information on of wild date palm trees.  The earliest recorded information describes the date palm tree as a cultivated tree.  Since the time that writing first emerged date palm Trees were described as cultivated trees.  Date palm trees are recorded as cultivated trees from the times of ancient Mesopotamia about six thousand years ago.  There are no records showing where the date palm trees had originated from.  There are no records either to show how it is that the complicated cultivation process came about.  Ancient seeds from wild date palm trees have been found in the Shanidar Cave of Northern Iraq.  These date seeds are estimated to be about 50 thousand years old?

Some experts believe that the date palm tree originated in the Euphrates-Tigris Valley. Semitic religious legends identify the Euphrates-Tigris Valley as the location of the Garden of Eden.  Others believe the date palm tree came from Arabia.  

The special needs of the date palm tree lead botanists to believe that the date palm tree originated in the ravines bordering the desert regions of Mesopotamia.  The climate was sufficiently hot and dry to permit the fruit to ripen and at the same time there was plenty of water for the roots to absorb. 

The ancient Assyrian and Babylonia civilizations left clay tablets that describe the date palm tree.  Some Assyrian monuments and other works of art depict the cultivation and pollination of the date tree.  Some sculptures show the date groves with date palm trees bearing fruit, as well as the trenches and basis which provide the means for watering the groves.

In these ancient cultures the date palm tree was regarded as a sacred tree which was often used in religious rites and ceremonies.  In at least one Assyrian relief a deity is shown pollinating the date palm tree while holding a bucket on the other hand.

The History of the Date Part II

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