Olive oil history

primordial beginnings


The Primordial Beginnings


In the work, "The Origin of Cultivated Plants", writen in 1883, De Candolle attributes to Syria the privilege of being the place where the olive tree was discovered. Recently, howerver, botanists and archaelogists have contested this claim, affirming that the first olive trees were found in north Africa, in the Atlas mountains and in the mountains of Tunisia, in the Relilai region, from which they spread to other countries around the Mediterranean.
The historical reality of the olive tree and olive oil has been revealed by the archaeological excavations that have been undertaken over the decades. Carbon 14 dating of archaeological discoveries has only been conducted since 1946, an insignificant time span when dealing with archaeology. This leads us to believe that further excavations will unearth even more of the story regarding the olive tree and its oil.

The fact is that, in these archaeological exploits, scholars found fossils of olive trees leaves in Pliocene settlements, in Mongardino - Asti, Italy. Later, fossilized residues of wild olive trees leaves, incubated in caracols, were also found in the Relilai region of North Africa, in layers of the Upper Palaeolithic. Finally, excavations in Eneolithic and Bronze Age layers, carried out at archaeological sites in Barranco de la Valltorta - Maestrazgo de Castellón, Spain, also found vestiges of wild olive trees leaves.

  Recent discoveries


One more extremely interesting fact from the researchers point of view confirms our statement that the history of olive oil is still being unveiled. Until we commenced the research and the drafting of this book, in the modern era, the most ancient archaeological information about olive trees was from the findings, from 12 thousand years ago, at Relilai, but, upon making a study trip to Greece, we came across the works of Professor Evangelous Velitzelos, Director of the Archaeology Faculty at Athens University. By means of fossilized olive tree leaves, it demonstrated the existence of olive trees on the Island of Mikonos, 60 thousand years ago!

However, even though these latest findings impress and raise expectations of even earlier findings, all these data do not imply the permanent existence of olive trees in these places since the start of the civilizations. On the contrary, the Pliocene was an age of higher temperatures, constant variations in temperature, a time that preceded a glacial period. It is easy to imagine the disappearance of the olive tree, and, some thousands of yeas later, their re-emergence or re-introduction in regions that presented conditions for their re-adaptation, and, from that moment on, throughout the ages and human evolution, their cultivation and systematic production of their oil.

primordials religion


An ancient legend tells us that God had made a promise to Adam, and that the latter, upon reaching 930 years, foreseeing his end, asked the Lord to fulfil it: the oil of the divine mercy for his own redemption and that of humanity. Adam sent his son, Seth to Paradise, where a cherub delivered three seeds to him. After Adam's death, these three seeds germinated inside his mouth. Thus, on Mount Tabor, in the Valley of Hebron, three trees were born: a cypress, a cedar and an olive tree.

God called Moses and promised him a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills. When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.? (Deuteronomy 8:8 ? 8:10) For the LORD had said to Moses, Each day one leader is to bring his offering for the dedication of the altar. The one who brought his offering on the first day was Nahshon son of Amminadab of the tribe of Judah. His offering was one silver plate weighing a hundred and thirty shekels, and one silver sprinkling bowl weighing seventy shekels, both according to the sanctuary shekel, each filled with fine flour mixed with oil as a grain offering;? (Numbers 7:11 - 7:13)

Throughout the centuries, a white dove, bringing a bunch of leaves in its beak, has been drawn, painted and otherwise represented innumerable times. What is the origin of this bird? What delicate bunch is this? Following the heavy rains and floods, Noah sent a dove to find out if God had pardoned the sins of the world and had made the waters of the Earth recede. After a long wait, the dove returned. In its beak, it was carrying a small bunch of olive tree leaves. It was divine testimony of the end of the Flood and the rebirth of nature. That little white leaf-bearing bird, so venerated in prayer and song, today represents the Holy Spirit, unity and equality among men, and transformed into the universal symbol of peace. Thus, it was there, in the very first chapter of the Old Testament, that our spiritual relation with olive trees began.

Emergence of olive oil


Until today, the Mediterranean lands present the best climatic and soil conditions for olive trees to thrive. It is, therefore, no surprise that their regular cultivation began along the coasts of Syria and Palestine.

Archaeological explorations in this region indicate the appearance of small open cavities in the rocks in periods of the Epipaleolithic Age (10,500 - 8,300 B.C.). These are certainly primitive mortars where all types of grains were ground, including olives. In the Neolithic Age, first in Syria 10 thousand years ago and 7 thousand years ago in Palestine, systematic exploitation of the soil began, and, from this came the creation of equipment, such as the relho de arado whip# plough#, mortars and pestles, and, in a remarkable evolution, mills for cereals and olives.

As shown in the chart to the side, the nomadic peoples and the intense barter trade of the time led to olive trees being spread westward from Syria, passing through Anatolia, reaching Cyprus and Crete, and southward towards Egypt. The latter country, one of the most advanced civilizations of the era, was responsible for developing a mechanical process for olive oil extraction.

Below, we shall see that, due to the intrinsic characteristics of the olive, extracting the oil is one of the simplest tasks developed by man in the production of a foodstuff. This could lead to the supposition that olive oil was one of the first, if not the first, food produced via human intervention. For this, suffice to imagine the degree of difficulty faced to produce wine, beer or bread, given that these need, besides harvesting, time for fermentation, etc. Salt does not need the hand of man, suffice to collect it from among stones after evaporation of seawater. Olive oil, on the other hand, requires work, although it only needs a handful of olives, maceration and a small space of time for their water content to be decanted or evaporated.

This is the synthesis of the process entailed in obtaining olive oil. In this light, it may be believed that olive oil was the first of the foods produced by man, or, symptomatically, one of the first. But here lies an interesting fact, bread - most probably the maza of Palestine, according to the recent discoveries made in around the Sea of Galilee, was already being baked 23 thousand years ago! Thus, we may ask ourselves: Wasn't olive oil produced prior to this date?, there being an expectations that it?s just a matter of waiting for further evidence to be found. Or, quite simply, is there no relation among complexity, evolution and achievement?