Date palm history is fascinating. The plant is associated with Egyptian gods Ammon Ra and Hathor, the goddess of love, fertility, music, and joy: “In a clean place shall I sit on the ground. Beneath the foliage of a date palm of the goddess Hathor …” (The Egyptian Book of the Dead).
When a pharaoh celebrated the thirtieth jubilee of his reign, he held a bunch of palm leaves at mid-rib level during the Heb Sed ceremony. It was believed that the gods had carved notches into the mid-ribs that corresponded to the number of years left of the reign and life of the king (Nazir, 1970; Bircher, 1990). Palm groves were planted around monasteries in the Egyptian deserts, a practice still used today.
Date seeds have been found in the Kharga Oasis in the Libyan Desert area of Egypt. A mummy robed with date palm leaves dates to about 3500 BC (Bircher, 1990). A vat containing a beer cocktail using date palm was excavated in Hierakonpolis (Egypt) and dated to about 3450 BC (Amer, 1994). In the fifteenth century BC, date fruits were paid as wages for construction work at the Dier El-Medina temple (Darby et al., 1977). Date palm trees were cultivated in the gardens of nobles and kings. One gardener, whose garden was said to contain 170 date palm trees, covered the walls of his tomb with paintings of date palm trees. Date palm seeds were used as mortuary offerings in ancient Egypt. Many excavations have uncovered date palm decorations that date back to the third millennium BC. Rocky stones decorated with palm trees have been found in temples and tombs of the third and second millennium BC.
Date palm history is also associated with the ancient Greeks, who regarded the palm as a sacred sign of Apollo. Cimon of Athens erected a bronze statue of a palm tree at Delphi as part of a victory commemorating the Battle of Eurymedon (c. 469–466 BC; Wikipedia). In ancient Rome, a palm symbolized champions, and a palm branch was awarded to victors in athletic contests. The Romans considered dates a sweet delicacy, importing them from the Arabian Peninsula and Northern Africa.
Pliny stated that all the countries of the East made date palm wine. Palm leaves were considered sacred. They were used at ceremonial occasions like the anointment of a King. In the ancient Assyrian religion, the palm tree’s crown represented heaven, and the base of the trunk represented the earth. In ancient Mesopotamia, the date palm represented human fertility. In Africa, the date palm shape is said to be similar in shape to the female vagina.
According to Islam, date palm grows in the Garden of Paradise in heaven and is regarded as a symbol of peace. Palm trees around oases were regarded as a gift of Allah. Date palm history mentions the muezzin, or crier climbing up a date palm tree to call the faithful to prayer. The Koran was first written on palm leaves. There are multiple references to the date palm in the speeches and life of the Prophet Mohammed.
In Judaism, the date palm is called Tamar and symbolizes prosperity and abundance (Psalm 92:12). It is also a sign of joy and happiness. The frond (leaf) of the date palm is part of the Jewish festival of Sukkot. Palm trees adorned ancient temples and are described in Ezekiel (40:16) and other verses. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, his followers waved palm leaves in greeting. After Jesus’ crucifixion, the palm became a symbol of martyrdom for the Christian people. The linkage of date palm history with Christianity is an example of the close association between history, religion, and nature.
Phoenix dactylifera, the date palm, or Tamar, is a monocot plant from the Arecaceae family. It is a high-energy crop and one of the most nutritious fruits in the tropics and subtropics. It is rich in sugars, palmitic and organic acids, linoleic, lauric, myristic, and other fatty acids, vitamins A, B1, B2, and traces of vitamin C, niacin, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, sulfur, phosphorus, chlorine, copper, and beta D glucan, a dietary fiber. Dates are a good source of phytochemicals like phenols and carotenoids.
Date palm history was tracked with the help of fossil records that show that these trees date back at least fifty million years. Some claim that the date palm originates from the Indus Valley because Phoenix sylvestris, the wild variety of date, and in all probability, the predecessor of the date palm, Phoenix dactylifera, still grows in India and Pakistan.
Wilkinson (1854) lists 360 date palm products. Popenoe 1913 lists and describes 1,500 cultivars of the date palm. The date fruit matures in about 200 days, in four stages. The first stage is kimri, or the unripe stage. The second stage is khalal, or the crunchy stage, at which point the fruit reaches full size. The third stage is rutab, or the ripe and soft stage. The final stage is tamr, which is the fully ripe and sun-dried stage. The fruit is harvested in the last three phases.
And there is so much more on dates and date palms. To know more, read the section on the plant here.