History Of Olive Oil
Duhamel's sentence shows the enormous importance of the olive tree and its oil for the Mediterranean basin. The origin of the olive tree is lost in time. Its expansion coincides with the civilizations that developed in the Mediterranean from east to west. The most recent analysis of ancient botany confirms that wild olive trees existed around the Mediterranean. Various fossilized olive tree leaves and fragments of oleaster pits that have been found in Eneolithic and Bronze Age excavations allow us to state that there were olive trees there in the XII millennium B.C. But probably their ancestors had appeared in the Villefranche period according to some authors, or in the Tertiary Age according to others. Since then, they spontaneously grew and developed around the margins of the Mare Nostrum (Mediterranean).
According to most authors, the cultivated olive tree originated in Asia Minor, between present Syria and Iran. Although other theories maintain that its cultivation may have started in the Phoenician colonies of the present territories of Palestine and Lebanon, much nearer to the Mediterranean, at the beginning of the Neolithic period, i.e. around the year 6000 B.C. From there, the olive tree expanded towards the West. First, to the coasts of Egypt and the island of Crete; then, to Lybia, Greece and Sicily, from where it extended throughout the Italic peninsula. While Greeks and afterwards Romans propagated its cultivation in the Northern Mediterranean coasts, Phoenicians, who founded Carthage in present Tunisia, developed it in the South, from Libya and Tunisia to Algeria, Morocco and Spain.
Expansion of the Olive Tree
Although the origin of the cultivated olive tree dates back 6000 years B.C., its first vestiges are later. Tablets found in Ebla, in the Northern region of Syria, reveal a high production of olive oil. Something similar occurs in Crete around 2000 B.C. In this island, at the palace of Knossos, huge amphoras were found that were used for oil transport and storage. In Egypt, the oldest and more trustworthy reference to this tree is the import activity that took place during the Fourth Dynasty, 2600 years B.C., and the existence of a sacred olive tree in the city of Heliopolis, in the Lower Egypt, during the Fifth and Sixth Dynasty. In the inventory of plants that Irena cultivated in her orchard in Thebes, while Hatshepsut was queen, 1500 years B.C., the olive tree is mentioned, and an olive tree branch appears at the sarcophagus of some Pharaohs, like Tutankhamun.