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Presence of vetches (Vicia spp.) in agricultural and wild floras of ancient Europe

  • Mikić, Aleksandar1
  • 1 Institute of Field and Vegetable Crops, Maksima Gorkog 30, Novi Sad, 21000, Serbia , Novi Sad (Serbia)
Published Article
Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution
Publication Date
Mar 05, 2016
DOI: 10.1007/s10722-016-0382-3
Springer Nature


Vetches (Vicia spp.) were part of the everyday diet of the modern human Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers at the end of the last Ice Age. Among the major criteria to determine the domestication in vetches and other ancient grain legumes are non-dehiscent pods, larger seed size and smooth seed coat. The seeds of bitter vetch [V. ervilia (L.) Willd.] were found among both the earliest findings of wild collected plants from Early Pre-Pottery Neolithic, from 12th millennium BC cal and the storages of domesticated crops of the Near East Neolithic. Vetches entered Europe in its south-east regions and progressed into its interior via Danube. Archaeological findings offer nice examples that confirm the importance vetches had in the primeval agriculture in Europe and its adjacent regions. Apart from the samples of cultivated vetches used either for food or feed or both, there is rich archaobotanical evidence on the wild and weedy vetch species in diverse European ecosystems. Recently the first known success has been obtained in the extraction of ancient DNA from charred bitter vetch seeds. The future research on this subject certainly must make a more detailed map of the paths of the vetch distribution over Europe and, especially, its long-term and essentially important ties with their domestication and distribution in Asia Minor, Near East and North Africa. The initiated research on the vetch ancient DNA should bring more light onto the individual steps of the earliest days of vetch crops. The preliminary historical linguistic analysis assessed two Proto-Indo-European roots associated with vetches, *erəgw(h)— denoting pea, and *weik— meaning toavoid, initially gave the Latin vincīre, meaning tobind, and then vicia, denoting vetches in general. This multidisciplinary approach will hopefully be a useful reminder how widespread and important vetches used to be, as well as a tool for their re-introduction as presently neglected crops into the contemporary European agriculture.

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