- HISTORY OF OLIVE OIL -
The olive tree is native to the Mediterranean basin; wild olives were collected by Neolithic peoples as early as the 8th millennium BC. The wild olive tree originated in Asia Minor or in ancient Greece.[n 1] It is not clear when and where olive trees were first domesticated: in Asia Minor, along the Levantine coast stretching from the Sinai Peninsula and Israel to historic Armenia, or somewhere in the Mesopotamian Fertile Crescent.
Ancient Greek olive oil production workshop in Klazomenai, Ionia (modern Turkey)
Archeological evidence shows that olives were turned into olive oil by 6000 BC and 4500 BC in present-day Israel. Until 1500 BC, eastern coastal areas of the Mediterranean were most heavily cultivated. Evidence also suggests that olives were being grown in Crete as long ago as 2,500 BC. The earliest surviving olive oil amphorae date to 3500 BC (Early Minoan times), though the production of olive oil is assumed to have started before 4000 BC. Olive trees were certainly cultivated by the Late Minoan period (1500 BC) in Crete, and perhaps as early as the Early Minoan. The cultivation of olive trees in Crete became particularly intense in the post-palatial period and played an important role in the island's economy, as it did across the Mediterranean.
Recent genetic studies suggest that species used by modern cultivators descend from multiple wild populations, but a detailed history of domestication is not yet forthcoming.
History and trade
Ancient oil press (Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology, Bodrum, Turkey)
Olive trees and oil production in the Eastern Mediterranean can be traced to archives of the ancient city-state Ebla (2600–2240 BC), which were located on the outskirts of the Syrian city Aleppo. Here some dozen documents dated 2400 BC describe lands of the king and the queen. These belonged to a library of clay tablets perfectly preserved by having been baked in the fire that destroyed the palace. A later source is the frequent mentions of oil in the Tanakh.
Dynastic Egyptians before 2000 BC imported olive oil from Crete, Syria and Canaan and oil was an important item of commerce and wealth. Remains of olive oil have been found in jugs over 4,000 years old in a tomb on the island of Naxos in the Aegean Sea. Sinuhe, the Egyptian exile who lived in northern Canaan about 1960 BC, wrote of abundant olive trees.
Besides food, olive oil has been used for religious rituals, medicines, as a fuel in oil lamps, soap-making, and skin care application. The Minoans used olive oil in religious ceremonies. The oil became a principal product of the Minoan civilization, where it is thought to have represented wealth. The Minoans put the pulp into settling tanks and, when the oil had risen to the top, drained the water from the bottom. Olive tree growing reached Iberia and Etruscan cities well before the 8th century BC through trade with the Phoenicians and Carthage, then was spread into Southern Gaul by the Celtic tribes during the 7th century BC.
The first recorded oil extraction is known from the Hebrew Bible and took place during the Exodus from Egypt, during the 13th century BC. During this time, the oil was derived through hand-squeezing the berries and stored in special containers under guard of the priests. A commercial mill for non-sacramental use of oil was in use in the tribal Confederation and later in 1000 BC, the fertile crescent, an area consisting of present day Palestine, Lebanon, and Israel. Over 100 olive presses have been found in Tel Miqne (Ekron), where the Biblical Philistines also produced oil. These presses are estimated to have had output of between 1,000 and 3,000 tons of olive oil per season.