This is the conclusion reached by Israeli researchers based on the earliest evidence found to date on the production of olives for consumption, which dates back to about 6,600 years and has been found in the submerged chalcolithic site of Hishulei Carmel. , on the coast of Haifa (Israel).
This discovery is described in a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports by researchers from the University of Haifa, the Technion, Tel Aviv University, the Hebrew University, the Volcani Institute and other research institutions in Israel and abroad.
As specified by the University of Haifa, this discovery predates the oldest evidence of olive production for consumption discovered so far by about 4,000 years. "This latest investigation completes the chain of olive tree use, starting with the wood for burning, going through the production of oil about 7,000 years ago, and later our discovery, where the fruit was used for consumption," explained Ehud Galili, from the Zinman Institute of Archeology, which is leading this research.
Olives are a key component of the human diet, culinary culture, and economy of the Mediterranean region. Archaeological finds and written testimony show that olive oil was widely used for consumption, lighting, worship, hygiene, and cosmetic purposes in ancient times. However, the date olives began to be eaten remains a mystery. "Historical documents attribute the first consumption of olives in Europe in the middle of the first millennium BC, and in Egypt to the classical period after the conquest of Alexander the Great, so all the evidence so far focused on the middle of the first millennium BC" said Liora Kolska Horwitz, of the Hebrew University.
The current study was carried out at the Hishulei Carmel (named for a nearby factory), which is located approximately 500 meters south of Haifa's southernmost beaches. This place dates back to the Middle Chalcolithic period, about 6,600 years ago. The remains of this period are now found from the coast at a distance of 120 meters, and at a depth of up to four meters under the sea.
The Israeli university has explained that it is believed that in this period the sea level was three to four meters lower than today, and the coast was about 200-300 meters west of its current location, so this place it was located on the coast in its day. No remains of residential dwellings have been found, but excavations have uncovered round utensils with a diameter of 1.5 meters, made from collected stones.
According to the researchers, these utensils were used as wells or storage pits. During underwater surveys, two oval stone structures were found containing thousands of saturated olive pits, most of them complete and excellently preserved. To identify the use that was made of olives, the research was carried out by a multidisciplinary team of archaeologists and botanists from 11 research institutions in Israel and abroad.
"As soon as we found the olive pits, we could see that they were different from those used to produce olive oil. In the rubble from oil production, most of the wells are crushed, while those found were whole" said Dafna Langgut of Tel Aviv University.
The researchers compared the findings with holes and utensils found by Galili several years ago in another underwater area: Kfar Samir, off the coast of Dado Beach. Kfar Samir is an older area, dating back between 7,000 and 7,500 years, and is located about 1,800 meters from Hishulei Carmel. The utensils found at Kfar Samir contained crushed olive pits as well as olive skins, and were identified as remnants from olive oil production. The wells found in the Hishulei Carmel area were mostly whole and no shell or other evidence was found to suggest oil production. In addition, in the remains of the Kfar Samir pits, the researchers found olive pollen grains, which is also found today in the rubble of olive presses.
Another factor that supports the claim that the utensils were intended for the production of olives for consumption is the proximity to the sea. A coastal location does not allow the storage of olives, due to high humidity which leads to rapid mold development. Consequently, the researchers believe that it is not logical to suggest that the facilities were used for the storage of fresh olives. Rather, the coastal location could have provided access to vital ingredients used to brine the olives, such as seawater and sea salt.
As part of their study, the researchers conducted a controlled examination in a food laboratory at the Technion. "The pickling of the olives in the uncovered utensils could have taken place after the fruit was repeatedly washed with seawater to reduce bitterness and then soaked in seawater, possibly with the addition of sea salt," he suggested. Professor Ayala Fishman of the Technion.
"The lack of olive pollen grains in the utensils, which are generally found in the remains of olives, supports the hypothesis that the olives were repeatedly washed," added Mina Weinstein-Evron, from the University of Haifa.
For their part, botanists Simcha Lev-Yadon, Oz Barazani and Arnon Dag have considered that wild olives from Mount Carmel, and possibly olives grown in ancient groves, probably provided the raw material for the production of olive oil and olives from table.
Finally, Galili stressed that they did not find any residential buildings in the Hishulei Carmel or Kfar Samir area, but they did find wells, round utensils, stone grinding basins, sieves made with twigs, and now the olive production facilities. . These places, in his view, may have served as former "industrial zones" for settlements along the Carmel Coast in the Chalcolithic period, beginning to produce olive oil some 7,000 years ago and olives for consumption 6,600 years ago.