Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut
Diana Craig Patch
During the work, we often find unexpected objects. The other day for me it was a large dom nut –part of the fruit of the dom palm tree—located in fill just above the sterile desert surface. Of course I can’t be sure how old the nut is because its find spot was too close to the surface to be straightforward. However the preservation of organic materials at Malqata is amazing so I suspect it is ancient.
Although not as common as the date palm, the dom (Hyphaene thebaica) is a well-known tree in Upper Egypt and the desert oases where there is a consistent groundwater supply. It is apparently not as common now as was in ancient times, however. Its forked trunk leads to multiple branches distinguishing it from the date palm, as do its lovely fan-shaped leaves.
Its fruit is sizeable and shiny, and each has a hairy nut like the one we found surrounding a kernel enclosed in juice. Apparently after the fruit is soaked, the spongy covering surrounding the nut has a gingery taste. The fruit can also be used to infuse a drink used in folk remedies to treat stomach complaints and fever. Recent medical research confirms that the dom has properties that can assist in the treatment of blood pressure and maintaining healthy cholesterol.
These nuts were important in ancient Egypt as food, and are included with burial goods as early as the Badarian Period (ca. 4400-3800 B.C.). They remained an important offering throughout ancient Egyptian history; for example, several times Ramesses II (ca. 1279-1213 B.C.) apparently offered large quantities to Amun-Re in Thebes.
The dom palm is considered the sacred tree of the god Thoth. Baboons are fond of the dom fruit, and because baboons can represent Thoth, scholars believe that is the source of the association.
In Rekhmire’s tomb (ca. 1479-1425 B.C.), there is an amusing painting that illustrates bags of dom nuts ready to be delivered. A number of green (vervet) monkeys scamper over these bags, stretching their hands through the net bags to steal the fruit (metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/544629!).
January 17, 2016