Dates have been a staple food of the Middle East and the Indus Valley for thousands of years. There is archaeological evidence of date cultivation in Arabia from the 6th millennium BCE. The total annual world production of dates amounts to 8.5 million metric tons, countries of the Middle East and North Africa being the largest producers.
Fossil records show that the date palm has existed for at least 50 million years.
Dried date, peach, and apricot from Lahun, Fayum, Egypt. Late Middle Kingdom
Dates have been a staple food of the Middle East and the Indus Valley for thousands of years. There is archaeological evidence of date cultivation in eastern Arabia between 5530 and 5320 calBC. They are believed to have originated around what is now Iraq, and have been cultivated since ancient times from Mesopotamia to prehistoric Egypt. The Ancient Egyptians used the fruits to make date wine, and ate them at harvest.
There is archeological evidence of date cultivation in Mehrgarh around 7000 BCE, a Neolithic civilization in what is now western Pakistan. Evidence of cultivation is continually found throughout later civilizations in the Indus Valley, including the Harappan period 2600 to 1900 BCE.
In Ancient Rome the palm fronds used in triumphal processions to symbolize victory were most likely those of Phoenix dactylifera. The date palm was a popular garden plant in Roman peristyle gardens, though it would not bear fruit in the more temperate climate of Italy. It is recognizable in frescoes from Pompeii and elsewhere in Italy, including a garden scene from the House of the Wedding of Alexander.
In later times, traders spread dates around South West Asia, northern Africa, and Spain. Dates were introduced into Mexico and California by the Spaniards in 1765, around Mission San Ignacio.
A date palm cultivar, probably what used to be called Judean date palm, is renowned for its long-lived orthodox seed, which successfully sprouted after accidental storage for 2000 years. The upper survival time limit of properly stored seeds remains unknown.
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