Remains of 8,000-year-old olive oil found in Lower Galilee

"This is the earliest evidence of the use of olive oil in the country, and perhaps the entire Mediterranean basin,” says IAA researchers.

December 17, 2014 18:36
2 minute read.
pottery israel

One of the 20 pottery relics found by the IAA in the Lower Galilee containing residue from 8,000-year-old olive oil.. (photo credit: IAA)

The earliest evidence of the use of olive oil in the country, and possibly the entire Middle East, was unearthed at an excavation site in the Lower Galilee, the Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday.

The discovery was made after Dr.

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Ianir Milevski and Nimrod Getzov directed an archeological salvage excavation at Ein Tzipori between 2011 and 2013.

The excavation led to research that indicated that olive oil was already being used in the country 8,000 years ago, during the 6th millennium BCE.

“Getzov and Milevski methodically sampled the pottery vessels found in the excavation to ascertain what was stored in them, and how they were used” by the area’s inhabitants, the statement said.

“Together with Dr. Dvory Namdar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Institute of Earth Sciences, they took small pieces of pottery and, utilizing chemical methods for extraction and identification, examined the organic remains that were absorbed in the sides of the vessel.”

These tests revealed that the pottery, dating to the Early Chalcolithic period, contained olive oil, the researchers concluded.

“A comparison of the results of the extraction from the archeological shards with those of modern, one-year-old oil showed a strong resemblance between the two, indicating a particularly high level of preservation of the ancient material, which had survived close to its original composition for almost 8,000 years,” the statement continued.

Of the 20 pottery vessels sampled, two were found to be particularly ancient, dating to approximately 5,800 BCE.

“In underwater archeological excavations directed by Dr. Ehud Galili opposite Kfar Samir, south of Haifa, remains of an olive oil industry from this period were previously discovered, whereas now at Tzipori, evidence has been found for first time of the use of olive oil,” the statement said.

“Together with the Kfar Samir discovery, this is the earliest evidence of olive oil production in the country, and possibly the entire Mediterranean basin.”

The researchers said the finding buttressed the possibility that olive oil was already a diet staple, and may have been used for lighting.

“Although it is impossible to say for sure, this might be an olive species that was domesticated and joined grain and legumes – the other kinds of field crops that we know were grown then,” they added.

“Those crops are known from at least 2,000 years prior to the settlement at Ein Tzipori. With the adoption of olive oil, the basic Mediterranean diet was complete.

From ancient times to the present, the Mediterranean economy has been based on high quality olive oil, grain and must, the three crops frequently mentioned in the Bible.”

The authority’s findings were initially published in an article appearing in the Israel Journal of Plant Sciences.

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