What Ancient Seeds Found in Archaeological Excavations in Israel Tell Us

Well-preserved seeds found in archaeological digs in Israel offer a singular glimpse into the lives of the people who were nourished by them thousands of years ago

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Feiner’s seed collection, right, and wheat seeds from the Iron Age, found in Megiddo.
Feiner’s seed collection, right, and wheat from the Iron Age, found in Megiddo.Credit: Dan Perez

The white sticky notes on the office cartons, handwritten or typed in a simple font, cite places such as Masada, City of David, Tel Safi and Ohalo. Each of the cartons, which lie on tall metal shelves, contain paper envelopes and boxes that hold fragments of information and slices of stories – in the form of charred seeds or bits of dried plants – that were discovered in archaeological excavations throughout the Land of Israel. If living seeds are capsules of information that store the genetic knowledge of plants, the seeds found in the digs attest, in addition, to the material and spiritual life of the people who grew, gathered and ate them. The seed survivors – pits of olives that were eaten and thrown away 8,000 years ago, or wheat grains that early inhabitants ate or used to make flour for bread – are no less exciting than the magnificent figurines or vessels unearthed in digs.