Like all food crops, the faba, or fava, bean -- a nutritious part of many the diet of many cultures diets -- had a wild ancestor. Wild faba is presumed to be extinct, but Weizmann Institute of Science researchers have now identified 14,000-year-old remains of seeds that offer important clues as to the time and place that this plant grew naturally. Understanding the ecology of the wild plants' environment and the evolution they underwent in the course of domestication is crucial to improving the biodiversity of the modern crop. The findings were reported in Scientific Reports.
[...] The new finding -- faba seeds from an archaeological site, el-Wad, on Mount Carmel in Northern Israel -- came from the earliest levels of an excavation that had been carried out by Profs. Mina Evron and Daniel Kaufman, and Dr. Reuven Yeshurun, all of Haifa University. The people living at that time, the Natufians, were hunter-gathers, and thus the plants there were growing wild. Boaretto and Caracuta performed radiocarbon dating and micro X-ray CT analysis on the preserved pieces of bean to pinpoint their age and identify them as the ancestors of the modern fava bean.
"Sometime between 11,000 and 14,000 years ago, people in this region domesticated faba -- around the same time that others farther north were domesticating wheat and barley," says Boaretto. Faba, a nutritious legume, is eaten around the world; in some places it is used for animal feed; and it fixes nitrogen in the soil. "Understanding how this plant was adapted to the habitat of the Carmel 14,000 years ago can help us understand how to create new modern varieties that will better be able to withstand pests and tolerate environmental stress," she says.
Vicia faba [wikipedia.org].
14,000-year-old seeds indicate the Levantine origin of the lost progenitor of faba bean [nature.com] (open, DOI: 10.1038/srep37399) (DX [doi.org])