Israeli archaeologists have found evidence of the earliest-known production of olives for consumption rather than for oil, which dates back 6,600 years, according to a University of Haifa study.
The study was recently published in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports.
Thousands of olive pits were found off the southern coast of Haifa, embedded in stone and clay neolithic structures in an area that is now submerged, but is believed to have been part of the northern coast in the past.
The pits were dated to around 4,600 BC, some 4,000 years earlier than the previous earliest known use of olives for food.
“When we found the pits we could immediately see they were different than the ones used to produce oil,” said Tel Aviv University archaeologist Dafna Langot. “In the waste from the production of olive oil the pits are mostly crushed, while here the pits were mostly whole.”
The researchers also did not find other telltale signs of oil production such as the remains of olive skins
The researchers said the ancient site’s location near the sea also indicated it was probably used to brine olives using seawater — as any other storage purposes in the high-humidity beach area would not make much sense.
“The lack of olive tree particles in the structures, as is usually found in olive waste, strengthens the assessment that the olives were repeatedly washed, as is common in the brining process even today,” said the University of Haifa’s Mina Weinstein-Evron.
Ehud Galili, a marine archeologist who led the study, said the find enables researchers to trace the uses of the olive tree, from “the use of its wood for heating, through the production of oil 7,000 years ago, to our find, in which the olive was used as food.”
Noting that basins and wells were found in the area, but not houses, Galili speculated that the site may have been an “industrial zone” for olives.