29 April 2009
A desert luxury: date palms
In March, I blogged about the many ways the resource-poor Sumerians used reeds. Date palms (Phoenix dactylifera), too, were put to many uses.
•Dates were eaten as food. Fresh dates are a good source of vitamin C, and dried dates are high in fiber. Both are high in iron and other minerals as well as in sugar and calories—a bad feature today, when most Westerners are overweight, but a good feature at a time when people worked hard and needed high-energy foods. Because dates can be dried and preserved, they could be a source of food in the blistering heat of the Mesopotamian summer when little grew.
•Dates were given as offerings to the gods.
•Date trees gave shade, a rare luxury in the desert.
•Date trees were appreciated for their beauty, also rare in the stark desert.
•Palm wood was used for construction.
•Palm wood could be used as fuel.
•The fronds could be woven into baskets and mats and made into rope and brushes.
•Dates could be traded to other countries for basic necessities Mesopotamia lacked, such as copper, tin, wood, and stone.
•Dried dates made travel through the desert easier because they were a light but calorie-dense food that didn’t spoil in hot weather.