Discovering the First Traces of the Olive

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Posted by on 14 Sep 2006

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The history of the cultivation of olive in Greece dates back to thousand of years. The eastern Mediterranean basin, mainly Syria and the Asia Minor, is thought to have been the home of the first olive trees. Olive cultivation soon spread among the ancient civilizations of the region. The methodical cultivation of olive began in Greece when Phoenician and Greek merchants carried the plant itself and the know-how for its cultivation to the western regions.

Modern excavations have unearthed fossilized traces of olive in various regions of Greece, especially in Santorini, Nisyros, and Cyme (Evia). Using modern techniques like palaeobotany and radiocarbon dating, scientists have dated these traces to as far back as 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, suggesting the hoary antiquity of olive cultivation in Greece.

These findings indicate that systematic cultivation of the olive tree began in Greece during the Early Bronze Age. Archaeologists have also found gems containing olives buried in ancient tombs, olive groves portrayed in Minoan paintings and olive-picking scenes depicted on earthen vessels.

The growth and spread of the olive tree in Greece owes much to the favorable geomorphological features of the Greek landscape. A vast industry grew up around the olive giving it great economic value. Olive is thought to have become part of the everyday diet from 2,000 B.C. and onwards. With the evolution of oil production methods, the olive oil became one of the most valuable commodities of the ancient economy that could be exchanged for other merchandise of similar value.

The olive-oil industry gave livelihood to a large number of people including potters, perfumers, carriers, sailors and merchants. An important network of Phoenician and Greek traders was established, transporting olive products to the western Mediterranean. Many ancient jars that were used to carry olive oil have been found in several shipwrecks around Greece.

The high value placed on olive oil survived even after the introduction of coinage. The engravings on the coins of that period portray olive branches or leaves and goddess Athena wreathed with branches of olive.

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