A Vietnamese scientist said rice grains dating back 3,000 years that she and her colleagues recently found at the vestiges of a rampart have sprouted after being soaked in water for two days.
Associate professor Lam Thi My Dung from Hanoi-based University of Social Sciences and Humanities said the grains which were unearthed nearly one meter underground at the excavation of the Den ramparts in Me Linh District more than a month ago were slightly burned.
Scientists then put them into the water for preserving and found several had sprouted after two days.
"No one believes that rice grains buried underground for thousands of years can sprout. We were so amazed and couldn't explain why they had such strong and miraculous vitality," the scientist said.
She stressed that they have sufficient evidence, including video tapes of their excavation, to rule out any possibility that the grains, which were found in an area with traces of an ancient kitchen dating back 3,000-3,500 years ago, were recently planted.
However, she said that to come up with the most convincing answer about the grains' age, local and international scientists need to join hands and conduct many tests.
Eight of the rice sprouts have been handed over to the Hanoi-based Agricultural Genetics Institute and two others will also be transferred to Hanoi University of Agriculture's Rice Institute for further research.
Le Duy Ham, head of the Agricultural Genetics Institute, said so far they haven't seen any differences between the sprouts and those of contemporary species.
Nguyen Van Hoan, head of the Rice Institute under the Hanoi University of Agriculture, said they had to grow the rice and then compare its DNA with 44,500 current genes to come to a definitive conclusion.
The tests, however, are too complicated and difficult to conduct in Vietnam, according to Hoan.
Several scientists have said that in theory, rice grains can sprout after being preserved under in-vitro conditions for 100 years at most.
"However, we can't rule out possibilities that the grains were preserved in a special environment that people have never known," said Nguyen Van Bo, head ofthe Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
The Den rampart was discovered in 1970 and since then has had nearly 280 square meters of its 20,000-square meter area excavated seven times. The latest digging started last month.