The Ancient Bean Diet: Fava Beans Favored in Prehistoric Israel

A study of ancient beans in prehistoric Israel’s Galilee


A study of the remains of ancient beans in the Galilee region of prehistoric Israel indicates that legumes, especially fava beans, made up a substantial part of the Neolithic diet. Photo: Kobi Vardi, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority.

Ten thousand years ago, people living in the Galilee region of prehistoric Israel really loved their beans—fava beans, specifically. In a joint study, researchers from the Weizmann Institute’s Kimmel Center and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) studied the seeds recovered during excavations of Neolithic sites throughout the Galilee. The researchers discovered that the Neolithic diet favored fava beans, but also included other types of legumes, such as lentils, peas and chickpeas.

According to a recent IAA press release, the seeds studied by the researchers were uncovered during excavations of Neolithic storage pits and date between 9,890–10,160 YBP (“years before present,” a radiocarbon dating method with 1950 as the base year). The seeds had been carefully cultivated and consistently harvested, indicating that the people who lived at these sites wanted to be sure they had crops for years to come. That fava seeds were so prevalent in the Neolithic storage pits suggests a preference for this nutrient-packed food.

Ahihud, one of the Neolithic sites excavated. Photo: Yaron Bibas, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority.

Ahihud, one of the Neolithic sites in the Galilee. Photo: Yaron Bibas, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority.

“The identification of the places where plant species that are today an integral part of our diet were first domesticated is of great significance to research,” the researchers said in the IAA press release. “Despite the importance of cereals in nutrition that continues to this day, it seems that in the region we examined (west of the Jordan River), it was the legumes—full of flavor and protein—[that] were actually the first species to be domesticated.”

The fava seeds under investigation are the oldest domesticated seeds of this bean species thus far discovered—meaning Neolithic peoples in the Galilee were among the first in the world to enjoy fava beans. If wine had been available at this time in the southern Levant, they could have savored the fava beans with a nice Chianti, as Hannibal Lecter did in the 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs.

The free eBook Life in the Ancient World guides you through craft centers in ancient Jerusalem, family structure across Israel and ancient practices—from dining to makeup—throughout the Mediterranean world.

Related content in Bible History Daily:

Why Study Prehistoric Israel?

The Prehistoric Diet and the Rise of Complex Societies

No Matches? No Problem. Ancient Fire-Making in Israel

Neolithic Figurine Could Lead to Reassessment of Prehistoric Israel

Manot Cave Skull Links Modern Humans to Neanderthals

“Lay Some Flowers on My Grave”: Oldest grave flowers discovered in Israel

Going Paleo: Prehistoric site in Israel offers menu for a Paleolithic diet

The Göbekli Tepe Ruins and the Origins of Neolithic Religion


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  • Betsy says

    Fascinating article! Favas are quite delicious and meaty tasting, especially wonderful with a drizzle of olive oil, garlic and herbs! They are tasty in soups, stews and salads and are very filling. Being neither a scientist nor archaeologist, I wonder how Neolithic people discovered that these beans were edible and safe to eat? The poster Kurt states that fava have flowers with a beautiful perfume, what other flower would it smell similar to? Also find it fascinating that early people learned how to save seeds for later cultivation.

  • Kurt says


    [Heb., pohl].

    The Hebrew term corresponds with the Arabic ful and is identified with the broad bean, Vicia faba, an annual plant extensively cultivated in Syria and Palestine. This type of bean has been found in Egyptian mummy coffins, indicating the use of it in Egypt from ancient times.The plant is hardy and erect, reaches a height of about 1 m (3 ft), and produces a sweet perfume when in blossom. The ripe pods are large and thick, and the beans are brown or black in color. Planted after the early rains in the autumn, they are usually harvested in the late spring toward the close of the barley and wheat harvest. The plants are winnowed much like grain. As a food, the green immature pods may be boiled whole as a vegetable, while the ripe beans are often cooked with oil and meat.

    When David moved out of Jerusalem and across the Jordan because of Absalom’s revolt, his company was greeted in Mahanaim by a delegation voluntarily offering equipment and foodstuffs, including broad beans. (2Sa 17:24-29) Ezekiel was instructed to mix broad beans with lentils and grains to make a coarse bread to be eaten by weight, depicting famine conditions.—Eze 4:9, 10.

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