Chickpeas (Cicer arietinum or garbanzo beans) are large roundish legumes, that look rather like a large round pea with an interesting bumpy surface. A staple of Middle Eastern, African and Indian cuisines, the chickpea is the world's second most widely grown legume after the soybean. Chickpeas store really well, and are high in nutritive value, although they are not very disease resistant, compared to other legumes.
The wild version of chickpeas (Cicer reticulatum) is only found in parts of what is today southeastern Turkey and adjacent Syria, and it is likely that it was first domesticated there, about 11,000 years ago. Chickpeas were part of the culture that first developed farming on our planet, called the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period.
Domesticated chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans) come in two main groups called desi and kabuli, but you can also find varieties in 21 different colors and several shapes.
Scholars believe that the oldest variety of chickpea is the desi form; desi are small, angular, and variegated in color. The desi likely originated in Turkey and was subsequently introduced into India where kabuli, the most common form of chickpea today, was developed. Kabuli have large beige beaked seeds, which are more rounded than desi.
The chickpea gained several very useful features from the domestication process. For example, the wild form of chickpea ripens only in the winter, while the domesticated form can be sown during the spring for summer harvest. Domestic chickpeas still grow best in winter when there is adequate water available; but during the winters they are susceptible to Ascochyta blight, a devastating disease which has been known to wipe out entire crops. The creation of chickpeas that could be grown in summer decreased the riskiness of relying on the crop.
In addition, the domesticated form of chickpea contains nearly twice the tryptophan of the wild form, an amino acid that has been connected with higher brain serotonin concentrations and higher birth rates and accelerated growth in humans and animals. See Kerem et al. for additional information.
The first draft whole genome shotgun sequence of both desi and kabuli breeding lines was published in 2013. Varshney et al. discovered that genetic diversity was slightly higher in the desi, compared to kabuli, supporting earlier contentions that desi is the older of the two forms. The scholars identified 187 disease resistance genes homologies, considerably fewer than other legume species. They hope that others will be able to use the information collected to develop superior varieties with improved crop productivity and less susceptibility to disease.
Domesticated chickpeas have been found at several early archaeological sites, including the Pre-Pottery Neolithic sites of Tell el-Kerkh (ca. 8,000 BC) and Dja'de (11,000-10,300 calendar years ago cal BP, or about 9,000 BC) in Syria, Cayönü (7250-6750 BC), Hacilar (ca 6700 BC), and Akarçay Tepe (7280-8700 BP) in Turkey; and Jericho (8350 BC to 7370 BC) in the West Bank.
Abbo S, Zezak I, Schwartz E, Lev-Yadun S, Kerem Z, and Gopher A. 2008. Wild lentil and chickpea harvest in Israel: bearing on the origins of Near Eastern farming. Journal of Archaeological Science 35(12):3172-3177. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2008.07.004
Dönmez E, and Belli O. 2007. Urartian plant cultivation at Yoncatepe (Van), eastern Turkey. Economic Botany 61(3):290-298. doi:10.1663/0013-0001(2007)61[290:upcayv]2.0.co;2
Kerem Z, Lev-Yadun S, Gopher A, Weinberg P, and Abbo S. 2007. Chickpea domestication in the Neolithic Levant through the nutritional perspective. Journal of Archaeological Science 34(8):1289-1293. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2006.10.025
Simon CJ, and Muehlbauer FJ. 1997. Construction of a Chickpea Linkage Map and Its Comparison With Maps of Pea and Lentil. Journal of Heredity 38:115-119.
Singh KB. 1997. Chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.). Field Crops Research 53:161-170.
Varshney RK, Song C, Saxena RK, Azam S, Yu S, Sharpe AG, Cannon S, Baek J, Rosen BD, Tar'an B et al. 2013. Draft genome sequence of chickpea (Cicer arietinum) provides a resource for trait improvement. Nature Biotechnology 31(3):240-246.
Willcox G, Buxo R, and Herveux L. 2009. Late Pleistocene and early Holocene climate and the beginnings of cultivation in northern Syria. The Holocene 19(1):151-158.