The Earliest Plant Genome Comes From a Stone Age Watermelon

Scientists have successfully sequenced what’ll become known as the earliest plant genome on record. While many might believe it comes from wheat or barley, it actually comes from watermelon. The plant’s seeds are believed to have been eaten during the Stone Age by sheepherders. Its location of origin is peculiar, too. The earliest plant genome comes from the Sahara desert.

How the Watermelon Seeds Were Found

The Earliest Plant Genome Comes from a Stone Age Watermelon The watermelon seeds were found to be 6,000 years old. They were discovered in the 1990s during an archeological dig of a cave site called Uan Muhuggiag. The site is in the Sahara desert in today’s Libya.

The conditions inside the cave were perfect for the preservation of the seeds. The air inside Uan Muhuggiag is dry and salty, thus preserving the watermelon seeds almost intact. They were so well-preserved that scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, located in Kew, UK., were able to sequence their DNA. Their finds were published in the Journal of Molecular Biology and Evolution.

Scientists who examined the seeds showed that they came from a wild watermelon species. It’s believed to be among Africa’s oldest crops. The discovery says a lot about the cultivation and domestication of today’s species. Scientists believe that the earliest species found may have contained a revoltingly bitter pulp. It’s in stark contrast to its modern-day relative, whose name means “to eat a sweet thing.”

Other Fascinating Revelations

The discovery of the earliest plant genome also throws light on Stone Age people’s lifestyle and dietary habits. During the study, researchers have sequenced the genome of countless watermelon species, all of which are part of the Kew Garden’s collections. It was discovered that the Saharan sheepherders must have intentionally cultivated or collected the seeds.

That revelation is consistent with the oldest seeds collected in Sudan. They were found with teeth marks on them. So, the bitter-fleshed watermelon must have been part of Stone Age people’s diet, at least at some point.

What remains a mystery is when the ancient bitter fruit started to resemble today’s species. Additionally, scientists believe the species might have been cultivated primarily for its seeds.

Ancient Rome Was Incredibly Massive and Surprisingly Mobile

It’s no mystery that the countries we live in today are not of the same size as they were in ancient atlases. But what we often overlook or can’t fathom is that those ancient lands were much larger, almost double the sizes of today. This has been very true in the case of Rome. While modern transport considerably cuts short travel duration across the globe, back then even the fastest transport between the capital of the ancient Roman Empire and any of its largest cities used to take at least two weeks. This long-distance travel is enough to give us an idea of how big ancient Rome was.

The Imperial Era

During the height of the reign of Emperor Trajan in 117 CE, the Roman Empire stretched from the northern part of England to the east of the Mediterranean, right down through Mesopotamia to the Persian Gulf. The total area of the empire measured about 5,000,000 km. During 118 – 138 CE, the ruler of Rome was Emperor Hadrian, the successor of Trajan. During his dynasty, Rome became even larger, stretching from Britain in the west to southwest Asia, and from today’s Netherlands in the north down to Egypt in the south. Though, these gains of extra territory were short-lived.

The Mobility of the Region

You’d be mistaken to think that the vastness of ancient Rome and the absence of a modern transport system barred the common people from traveling from one place to another. Instead, the economic and socio-cultural study of imperial Rome reveals that the numerous people inhabiting the large region were not isolated from each other. The Roman Empire possessed an incredibly developed roadway infrastructure, river ferries, harbors, and ports along the Mediterranean coast. Though primarily intended for military functions, all these transportation channels were made available for civilian use, facilitating easier mobility within and beyond the vastness of ancient Rome.