The wheat variety called Kamut® has a fascinating history.
According to “Kamut®: Ancient Grain, New Cereal”, one of the original growers, and one of the trademark holders, of Kamut®, Robert M. Quinn recounts the story of this unusual wheat variety.
“Following WWII, a US airman claimed to have taken a handful of this grain from a stone box in a tomb near Dashare, Egypt. Thirty-six kernels of the grain were given to a friend who mailed them to his father, a Montana wheat farmer. The farmer planted and harvested a small crop and displayed the grain as a novelty at the local fair. Believing the legend that the giant grain kernels were taken from an Egyptian tomb, the grain was dubbed “King Tut’s Wheat.”
The Mummy’s Curse?
On p. 55 of Seeds: The Definitive Guide to Growing, History, and Lore, the author dismisses such claims as being “Right up there with the mummy’s curse that supposedly led to the death of Lord Carnarvon, the archaeologist who uncovered King Tutankhamen’s tomb…”
The oldest claim for longevity (> 10,000 years) cited in this book (published in 2005) is for arctic lupine (Lupinus arcticus) seeds frozen and buried in the Canadian Yukon. The author is skeptical of the claim, and, indeed, a recent scientific report (see Ref. 2 below) confirms that the seeds were from modern times.
Seed Longevity: The Facts
Thanks to scores of scientific studies, we now have a pretty good idea of how long most seeds remain viable, that is, able to germinate. Under normal conditions (dry and cool), most seeds will remain viable for only a few years, and anything over 50 to 100 years is quite remarkable. (The reason, of course, is that some, if not most, of the seed is alive and respiring, and, thus, is using up its food supply, albeit very slowly.)
And coming back around full-circle to the story of Kamut®, Robert M. Quinn admits that“…most scientists believe it probably survived the years as an obscure grain kept alive by the diversity of crops common to small peasant farmers perhaps in Egypt or Asia Minor.”
More mythbusting?: Mummy DNA: History or hype?
Update (Oct. 2017): Thanks to an alert reader, whose comment (see below) informed me about a 2008 paper in Science describing the germination of an ancient date seed.
Bottom Line: Under extremely rare circumstances, at least one date seed has remained viable even after 2,000 years. This does not, however, refute the evidence against stories about viable seeds from ancient Egyptian tombs. Until someone shows that any of these 4,000-year-old seeds can indeed germinate, then these stories will remain what they currently are, that is, myths.
For a current review of seed longevity, please see Ref. 3 below.
3. Sano, N., et al. (2015) “Staying Alive: Molecular Aspects of Seed Longevity.” Plant & Cell Physiology, Vol. 57, pp. 660–674. (Full Text)
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