Research Reveals Ancient Egyptians Loved Watermelon

Perri Ormont Blumberg

Love watermelon? You're in good company — with ancient Egyptians.

While these days, we love to make hits like watermelon salad, watermelon margaritas and watermelon salsa with the vibrant pink fruit, it was a different story in the Gift of the Nile. New research, published in bioRxiv, has found evidence of the fruit's leaves in an ancient tomb using a preserved leaf from an 1876 study.

The so-called "mummy melon" was determined to be a domesticated variety with sweet, red flesh, and unlike the white-fleshed, wild watermelons found throughout Africa. Thankfully, scientists were able to sequence the 3,500-year-old leaf's DNA and determine that it was was the sweet type of watermelon.

"What the team can’t tell from the partial sequence is how large the melons were and whether they had an elongated shape or round shape. But one of the ancient Egyptian pictures shows what appears to be an elongated melon, so it seems farmers had bred watermelons with most if not all of the key features at least 3500 years ago," notes Michael Le Page in a piece on the discovery in New Scientist.

The DNA also indicated that this melon was a close relative of a sweet-tasting watermelon fruit with white flesh, that grows in the Darfur region of Sudan to this day. "That suggests the watermelon was first grown by farmers in this region and the use of the plant then spread northwards along the Nile, with further improvements like red flesh occurring along the way," Le Page explains.

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So next time you whip up one of Cousin Alison's favorite watermelon coolers or throw some watermelon on the grill at your next barbecue, you know who to tip your hat to in gratitude for the juicy, refreshing blessing.