Lecture 10 reading 10_2

Lecture 10 reading 10_2 - A n Ancient Technique for...

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An Ancient Technique for Ripening Sycomore Fruit in East.Mediterranean Countries J. GALIL 1 Introduction Sycomore trees (Ficus sycomor~s L.) are widespread in the Near East, in Egypt, Israel, Lebanon and Cyprus. They grow chiefly in plains and along rivers, where the soil renmins humid even during the hot and dry s']mmer. They are tall trees with a broad crown and spreading branches, standing out conspicuously from other plants. Sycomores originate fro.m the savannas of eastern Central Africa and from Yemen, where they grow spontaneously and repro- duce by seeds. The flowers are pollinated regularly by the small chalcidoid wasp Cera- tosolen [email protected] Mayr. It is not known how the sycomore was introduced into the Near East. Perhaps seeds or branches were swept with the Nile flood, or man may have brought it along from the south (20). In any case, remains of the syeomore tree (wood, roots and fruit), discovered in Egypt, date as far back as the predynastic period; i.e., more than 3000 years B. C. (17). The original pollinators of the syconmre did not reach the Mediterranean countries, and, consequently, seeds were not formed there, nor in Egypt nor Israel. Theophrastus (372-287 B.C.) stated that the sycomore did not produce seeds in Egypt. Dry sycomore fruit found in the grave of Ani of the XXth dynasty (about 1100 B.C.) contained nei- ther seeds nor Ccratosolen wasps (7). Thus, sycomore trees growing in the Near East are outside the spontaneous area of the plant and depend on man for their propagation. They are easily increased through cuttings and. stakes. Apart fr<>m its importance as a. good shade tree, the sycomore also provides tim- ber and fruit. In desert-dry Egypt, which 1 Department of Botany, Tel-Aviv Univer- sity, Tel-Aviv, Israel. Received for publication July 5, 1967. was always very short on trees, the wood of the sycomore was highly valued. The ancient Egyptians used it to make a wide assortment of household utensils and factory imple- ments, houses, all kinds of boxes and espe- cially coffins (23). Figuratively speaking and from the standpoint of construction timber, the ancient Egyptian civilization may be said to have been firmly based on the sycomore tree (17). Although the taste of sycomore fruit is not superlative, in Egypt it has been held in high esteem since earliest times. The Egyptians of old expressed their affection and appreciation for the sycomore in many ways. It was held sacred to various deities, especially to Iiathor, the goddess of love. Representations of the tree and its fruit are to be found on bas-reliefs and ancient papyri, and songs have been written ia its praise. Of special interest to the botanist are the fruit and leafy branches placed as funeral offerings in the tombs of kings and noblemen; owing to dryness of the air, these specimens have been very well preserved and can be studied now just as readily as any recent plant (7, 15). It is not known when the sycomore was brought to Israel from Egypt, but it is quite evident that this must have taken place very early in history, as the tree was well known in Biblical times. In Israel, the sycomore
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This note was uploaded on 04/03/2011 for the course HIST 302a taught by Professor Staff during the Summer '08 term at Purdue.

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Lecture 10 reading 10_2 - A n Ancient Technique for...

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