After considerable study, it turns out the seeds are wild ancestors of Vicia faba, commonly known as the fava bean. Fava is considered by the conservation organization Crop Trust to be one of the most important crops in some parts of the world. Fava’s health is a critical matter even in places where people don’t consume it very much: it’s the most effective natural nitrogen fixer known to agriculture.Nitrogen is essential to building nutrient-rich soil, but it’s quickly used up by cereal crops like wheat, which, when eaten in conjunction with fava and other legumes, provide an inexpensive, balanced diet to the world’s estimated 375 million vegetarians. Any crop’s wild ancestors hold important information about how to make modern domesticated varieties more resistant to disease, drought, and other devastating effects of climate change. But traces of a wild ancestor of Vicia faba, long presumed extinct, proved utterly elusive—until el-Wad.The six seeds, each measuring about 5 millimeters in length, were discovered by paleobotanist Valentina Caracuta; she published her findings in Scientific Reports this past November. Caracuta dug the seeds up from the earliest levels of an ongoing excavation of a Natufian habitation. The Natufians were a hunter-gatherer culture that inhabited the Levant (or eastern Mediterranean) from about 13,000 to 9,700 BCE.