A study of ancient beans in prehistoric Israel’s Galilee
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.
“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.
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