A tour through pea cultivation at the Intergalactic Pea Festival

This blogpost was written by Aleksandr Kuznetsov, Library of Law and Economic Information, St. Petersburg, Russia

I work in the library of law and economic information. When my co-workers found out that the United Nations declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses, we prepared a festive event dedicated to this important topic. It was called the «Intergalactic Pea Festival». During the event, I gave an interesting lecture on the origin and dissemination of pea culture in the world, and hence decided to share some of its passages in this blog.

Peas primarily originate from the mountainous regions of South-West Asia, namely Afghanistan and India. Pea culture is not only a product of nature, but it is also the result of human activity.

It is believed that peas originally arose in Asia Minor and then spread to South-West Asia, keeping their primitive characteristics because of little human intervention. Meanwhile, in the West, there was an intensive process of domestication, which eventually led to the creation of vegetable pea varieties with recessive traits.

One possible way pea culture moved from Minor Asia to Middle and Northern Europe is through Southern Russia. The Trypillian culture, which existed between the 2nd and 3rd millennium BC, played a significant role in the spreading of many cultivated plants from Minor Asia.

However, one thing is certain: in the Stone Age, namely the Neolithic Period, which existed over 12.000 years ago, peas along with wheat, barley, millet, lentils, beans, and vetch had already penetrated the culture. Pea seeds were found in the Neolithic layers during excavations in Troy, Greece (Thessaly), Yugoslavia (Croatia) and Switzerland. Peas were also mentioned allegorically in the famous poem "The Iliad" by Homer:

«…So from a wide breezed, volleying through the smooth current, Black beans or green pea beans are jumping…»

The origin of peas in China dates back to the 1st century BC, possibly even earlier, when peas were most likely brought to the country from Afghanistan via India. The spreading of pea culture to Japan occurred much later – not until the 3rd century AD -than in China.

In the Middle Ages, the pea finally reached England. According to existing documents, there was no trace of peas in England during the 5th century AD but by the time William the Conqueror became king of England in 1066, peas had already spread all over the country.

Pea seeds and other crops were also detected in Staraya Ladoga (Leningrad Oblast), located in Russia’s northern forest zone, during archeological excavations in the cultural layer of the 7th century AD. In the Pskov region, pea seeds were found between the 5th and 6th century AD.; in the territory of ancient Novgorod - X- XIV century, in the area of the middle river Oka - XIV-XV centuries.

Written documentation about peas can be traced back to the 11th century AD. In the "Russian Truth", written during the time of Yaroslav the Wise, peas are mentioned along with wheat, rye, millet and oats. Many monastery books of 12th century AD include many references to peas, that also tell us about how widely spread and popular this culture was in Russia.

The views expressed here belong to the speaker and do not necessarily represent FAO’s views, positions, strategies or opinions.


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