Earliest evidence of eggplant seeds in Israel unearthed in City of David

Ancient Jerusalem refuse pit sheds light on Early Islamic period dietary habits.

Test tubes containing eggplant and various botanical seeds found in the refuse pit.  (photo credit: COURTESY OF ELIYAHU YANNAI/ THE CITY OF DAVID.)
Test tubes containing eggplant and various botanical seeds found in the refuse pit.
A 1,100-year-old refuse pit unearthed in Jerusalem by the Antiquities Authority has provided the earliest evidence of eggplants in Israel.
The discovery has also shed light on the dietary habits of residents in the Early Islamic period.
During a recent excavation under a stepped street in the City of David, eggplant seeds dating between 750 and 940 CE were identified in the ancient garbage depository, the Authority said on Thursday.
“These seeds, the earliest evidence of eggplants known in this country, were found alongside thousands of grape seeds, olives, Christ’s thorn jujube pits, black mulberries, lentils, figs and more,” it said.
The excavation, located under the Second Temple period pilgrimage road, was coordinated in collaboration with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, and funded by the City of David Foundation.
According to IAA excavation director Nahshon Szanton, the eggplant seeds, which originated in Persia – compounded by the thousands of other preserved seeds discovered – provide invaluable insights for researchers.
“Archeological findings from the refuse pit… provide valuable information about the diet, lifestyle and economic and trade connections of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and neighboring countries 1,000 years ago,” he said.
“The discovery of the earliest eggplant seeds in this country, and dating them to the Abbasid period, provides important information about how eggplant first became part of local agriculture.”
Szanton continued: “The Arab conquest increased the extent of commerce in this country in general, and in the Jerusalem area in particular.
This gradual process led to changes in the diet of the local inhabitants due to the arrival of new species and tastes in our region, in addition to those already familiar in the local cuisine up to that time.”
Szanton explained that the seeds’ components underwent a mineral phenomenon that rendered them inorganic, leaving their outer form unchanged and preserving the seeds from decomposing.
“In Israel, organic finds are usually preserved if they become carbonized as the result of a fire, or when the site is in an area where weather conditions delay the breakdown of the material, for example in the Judean Desert,” he said.
In addition to the seeds, Szanton said several ancient lamps were discovered, including one bearing the inscription “bracha” or blessing, in Arabic. Also found were bones from cattle, fish and birds.
“These represent a variety of foods and vegetable products – legumes, fruits and vegetables, as well as edible wild grasses that were also used as spices and for medicinal purposes,” he said.
Moreover, IAA researcher Oriya Amichay noted that the thousands of grape seeds unearthed in the pit could attest to industrial activity involving grapes.
“Wine may have been produced here, or, more likely, grape honey (dibes),” said Amichay.
“We know that with the Muslim conquest, grape honey production became more prevalent in the area, while wine production declined due to the Muslim religious ban on alcoholic beverages.”
The contents of the pit are now being analyzed by Szanton and Amichay in cooperation with Bar-Ilan University’s Archeobotany Laboratory.