Lathyrus Consumption in Late Bronze and Iron Age Sites in Israel: An Aegean Affinity
Yael Mahler-Slasky et al.
This paper presents new evidence, together with previous findings, for the appearance of charred seeds of Lathyrus sativus (grass pea)/L. cicera. This grain legume was a food staple in ancient times, principally in the Aegean region, but also appeared sporadically and in a limited way in the archaeological record of the southern Levant. It is encountered there first in the Late Bronze Age but disappears in the record at the end of the Iron Age. Although a palatable, nutritious plant adapted for growing under adverse conditions, its seeds can be toxic when consumed in large quantities. Apparently L. sativus/cicera made its way to the lowlands of the southern Levant, either by trade or with Philistine immigrants. It is absent at other south Levantine Bronze Age (i.e., Canaanite) and Iron Age sites and it remained a food component in the southern coastal region (i.e., Philistia, the region associated with the biblical Philistines) up to the end of Iron Age II, suggesting a possible ethnic association. Evidence of L. sativus/cicera joins that of another Aegean archaeobotanical import from an earlier, Middle Bronze Age II context, L. clymenum, found at Tel Nami, a coastal site farther to the north of the region.