Photo Credit: IAA
Shard of jar that contained olive oil dating back six centuries before Hanukkah.

The earliest evidence for the use of olive oil in the country, and possibly the entire Middle East, was revealed at an antiquities site in the Lower Galilee, Israel Antiquities Authority wrote contend in the Israel Journal of Plant Sciences.

Dr. Ianir Milevski and Nimrod Getzov directed an archaeological salvage excavation in 2011–2013 at “En Zippori” in the Lower Galilee, prior to the widening of a highway, and their findings and research indicate that olive oil was already being used in the country 8,000 years ago.

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Getzov and Milevski methodically sampled the pottery vessels found in 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.

These tests revealed that the pottery dating to the Early Chalcolithic period contained olive oil. A comparison of the results of the extraction from the archaeological 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.

Of the 20 pottery vessels sampled, two were found to be particularly ancient, dating to approximately 5,800 BCE. According to the researchers, “In underwater archaeological 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 Zippori, evidence has been found for first time of the use of olive oil.

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

Milevski and Getzov said, “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. 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.”

 

 

 

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