History of Dates (Food) - Where did dates come from?
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History of Dates

dates
Dates

May 2016 - Wild dates probably evolved around 50 million years ago, as a way for date palms to get animals to eat their seeds and carry them to other places before pooping them out. Date palms are palm trees, related to the palms that Africans got palm oil from. Date palms can live for up to two hundred years. Wild dates probably first grew around the Persian Gulf, in what is now Iraq and Iran. When people first left Africa to travel along the coastline towards India, about 60,000 BC, they must have found and eaten wild dates.

By around 4000 BC, people in West Asia and Egypt, North Africa, and India, were already farming dates and eating a lot of them. Our word date comes from the Semitic words for dates, daqal or deqel. People pollinated the dates by hand, climbing the date palms with male pollen and smearing it on the female flowers. They harvested the dates during the summer, between June and September depending on the type of date. People loved to eat dates because they are very sweet, and also a good source of potassium. When people didn't have sugar, dates were a great dessert.

mosaic of two men picking fruit
Two men picking dates
(Basra Theater, Roman Syria, ca. 150 AD)

Dates are long oval fruits. Each date has one big seed inside it. You can eat dates fresh, or dry them like raisins. Sometimes people coated dried dates with honey so they would last longer. In Egypt, people also made dates into date wine, and they also used dates to sweeten their beer; in North Africa, people used the sap from the date palm to make palm wine.

Learn by Doing - Eating Dates
More about palm oil

Bibliography and further reading about dates:

Or check out the Encyclopedia Britannica article about dates.

More about Figs
More about African food
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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