Archaeologists shed light on diets of Galilee residents 10,000 years ago

World’s oldest domesticated fava seeds found in Galilee: "This is an important discovery, enabling a deeper understanding of the agricultural revolution in the southern Near East," says researcher.

November 23, 2015 18:30
2 minute read.
Israeli archaeology

THE EXCAVATION site in the Galilee, where the world’s oldest domesticated fava seeds were found.. (photo credit: SKYVIEW, COURTESY OF THE ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)


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Hannibal Lecter would have been pleased.

A joint study by researchers of the Weizmann Institute and the Israel Antiquities Authority examining ancient fava seeds exposed in excavations at Neolithic sites in the Galilee, sheds new light on the diets of prehistoric inhabitants from 10,000 years ago.

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Seeds unearthed in the past few years in the area west of the Jordan River, illustrate that ancient humans’ diet at the time consisted primarily of fava beans, lentils and various types of peas and chickpeas, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said on Monday.

Moreover, according to the archeologists, state-of-the-art techniques used to analyze the buds determined the fava seeds that were found date back to 10,125–10,200 YBP, making them the world’s oldest domesticated seeds.

“The multitude of fava seeds found at the Neolithic sites excavated in the Galilee during the past few years indicates the preference placed on growing fava beans,” the IAA said.

“These well-preserved seeds were found in excavations, inside storage pits (granaries) after they had been husked. The seeds’ dimensions are a uniform size – a datum showing they were methodically cultivated, and were harvested at the same period of time, when the legumes had ripened.”

The researchers noted that keeping the seeds in storage pits is also reflective of long-term agricultural planning, whereby the stored seeds were intended not only for food, but also to ensure future crops in the coming years.

“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 IAA said.

“Despite the importance of cereals in nutrition that continues to this day, it seems that in the region we examined, it was the legumes, full of flavor and protein, which were actually the first species to be domesticated.

“A phenomenon known as the agricultural revolution took place throughout the region at this time: Different species of animals and plants were domesticated across the Levant, and it is now clear that the area that is today the Galilee was the main producer of legumes in prehistoric times.”

The cultivation process lasted thousands of years, the researchers added, during which certain characteristics of wild species changed, and domesticated plant species were created.

“To this day, most of the chickpeas grown in the country are cultivated in the Galilee region,” the IAA said.

The study was conducted by archaeobotanist Valentina Caracuta, of the Weizmann Institute, with Dr. Elisabetta Boaretto and Dr. Lior Regev, in cooperation with IAA archaeologists Dr. Kobi Vardi, Dr. Yitzhak Paz, Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily, Dr. Ianir Milevski and Dr. Omri Barzilai.

Fava beans play an infamous role in the eerie 1991 Oscar winner, “The Silence of the Lambs” where protagonist Hannibal Lecter, a sadistic cannibal played by Anthony Hopkins, famously tells FBI agent Clarice Starling, played by Jodie Foster, that “a census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”

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