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December 19, 2014 1:13 am

Remains of Ancient Olive Oil Discovered in the Lower Galilee

avatar by Anav Silverman / Tazpit News Agency

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Jars from the excavation. Photo: IAA.

The earliest evidence for the use of olive oil in Israel, and possibly the entire Middle East, was recently revealed at an antiquities site in the Lower Galilee. Researchers from the Israel Antiquities Authority contend that olive oil was already being used in the country 8,000 years ago in a recently published article appearing in the Israel Journal of Plant Sciences.

From 2011-2013, Ianir Milevski and Nimrod Getzov of the Israel Antiquities Authority directed an archaeological salvage excavation in Tzipori in the Lower Galilee in northern Israel, prior to the widening of Highway 79 by the Netivei Israel Company. This excavation led to research that indicates olive oil was already being used in the sixth millennium BCE.

According to the researchers, this is the earliest evidence of olive oil in the country and possible in the entire Mediterranean basin. The researchers noted that remains of an olive oil industry from this period were previously discovered off the coast of Kfar Samir, south of Haifa.

“It seems that olive oil was already a part of the diet and might also 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. Those crops are known from at least two thousand years prior to the settlement at En Zippori,” said Getzov and Milevski.

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“With the adoption of olive oil, the basic Mediterranean diet was complete. From ancient times to the present, the Mediterranean diet has been based on high quality olive oil, grain, and must – the three crops frequently mentioned in the Bible.”

Getzov and Milevski methodically sampled the pottery vessels found at the excavation in order to ascertain what was stored in them and how they were used by the site’s ancient inhabitants. 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.

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

These tests revealed that the pottery dating to the Early Chalcolithic period, also called the Copper Age, contained olive oil. A comparison of the results of the extraction from the archaeological site with those of modern olive oil, showed a strong resemblance between the two, indicating a particularly high level of preservation of the ancient material, which had survived close to their original composition for almost 8,000 years.

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