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2,000-Year-Old Seeds Found In Ancient Chinese Tomb
The discovery of more than 100 seeds in northern China could offer insight into ancient crop varieties and the food people ate two millennia ago (CCSS Level: Grade 9, Words: 342)
Feb 17, 2017 History

A recent discovery of more than 100 plant seeds dating back 2,000 years have been unearthed from an ancient tomb in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The half-moon shaped seeds resemble those from modern pomegranates, but according to the regional institute of archaeology, their identity is unknown.

The seeds were found on the east side of the female tomb-owner's head. They were arranged in a round shape with a diameter of eight centimetres.

According to the regional institute of archaeology, the discovery was made during the excavation of a civilian tomb, dating between the middle and late Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C. -25 A.D.) and early Eastern Han Dynasty (25 A.D. -220 A.D.), in Dengkou County, western Inner Mongolia.

"One of the advantages to find like this is that you may come across a specific variety of plant that's no longer around today, or has kind of faded into obscurity," said Craig Barrett, assistant professor of plant evolutionary biology at West Virginia University.

Barrett pointed out that scientists today are very interested in preserving the genetic variation we see in crops, called seed banking, in order to save seed varieties from eradication. The Svalbard seed vault in Norway is the largest example of this, with over 880,000 seed sample from almost every country in the world.

"2,000 years ago is recent enough to where we know quite a bit about what people in that part of the world were eating," Barrett said, however if the seeds are in fact related to the pomegranate plant," it might be really significant in terms of finding some ancient variety of pomegranate that people were eating," he added.

It's unknown at this point whether the seeds can be revived or not, but there have been several successful attempts at ancient seed revival in recent years.

A rusted bronze seal was also found in the same tomb. Further 18 single-chamber brick tombs were also unearthed. Scattered among sand dunes, the tombs were not well preserved, with most of their tops being exposed to air.

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