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History of dates: Two dates

Dates are from West Asia

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.

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West Asian food
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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.

History of dates: farming 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.

Ancient Indian food
Early African food

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.

History of sugar
And of honey

Two men picking dates (Basra Theater, Roman Syria, ca. 150 AD)

History of dates: Two men picking dates (Basra Theater, Roman Syria, ca. 150 AD)

How did people eat dates?

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.

History of beer

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.

A sad story about dates

In the 900s AD, in the Middle Ages, people said that slave traders from the Arabian peninsula used sweet dates to get East African children to follow them so they could enslave them…

Medieval African food
East African history
Slavery in the Islamic Empire

Did you find out what you wanted to know about the history of dates? Let us know in the comments!

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Bibliography and further reading about the history of dates:

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