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Emergence and evolution of date palm cultivation in Northwestern Arabia

Lecture 7th Nov. 2023

Margot Besseiche , Vincent Battesti , Muriel Gros-Balthazard

Lecture (in English) “Emergence and evolution of date palm cultivation in Northwestern Arabia”
given for the international conference “Human-Environment Interactions in Ancient Arabia” (HEIAA)
University of Tübingen, Tübingen (Germany)
7th November 2023,
by Margot Besseiche, with Vincent Battesti and Muriel Gros-Balthazard.


The history of Human occupation in the al-‘Ulā area, in northwestern Saudi Arabia, is currently under study, including the iconic sites of Dadan and Madā’in Sāliḥ. Oasis agriculture, with the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.) as the key species, is attested since at least the Nabatean period in Madā’in Sāliḥ. The production of dates is still one of the main resources of the oasis today. However, the origins of these palms, when phœniculture began in western Arabia and how it evolved over the past two millennia remain puzzling.

In this study, we analyze the genomes of more than 500 date palms sampled in the al-‘Ulā region in order to reconstruct the emergence and evolution of phœniculture within this desert environment. Our preliminary analyses indicate that those palms constitute a mix between the well-defined North African and West Asian populations, corroborating the role of crossroads of civilizations of this oasis. Several archaeological artifacts, including a date necklace from a Nabatean-Roman tomb are also currently analyzed through ancient DNA and morphometric analyses. Together, those analyses will inform not only the history of oasis agriculture in northwestern Arabia, but also the history of diffusion of date palm cultivation from its cradle in the Persian Gulf.

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Palmier dattier cultivé dans l’oasis d’al-‘Ulā (Arabie saoudite) | Cultivated date palm in al-‘Ulā oasis (KSA) — by Vincent Battesti
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This page was last updated on Saturday 11 November 2023 at 21:36:44. //// -----> Quote this page?
Margot Besseiche , Vincent Battesti , Muriel Gros-Balthazard , "Emergence and evolution of date palm cultivation in Northwestern Arabia " (online), Anthropoasis |, page published 7 November 2023 (consulted 29 May 2024), available on: