John Steel's NY Times book review of William J. Bernstein's "A Splendid Exchange: How trade shaped the world", comments:
"The poor soil and scant rain of ancient Greece, for instance, meant that the terrain’s ability to grow grain was limited, but grape vines and olive trees grew in abundance. To export its wine and olive oil, Athens developed a pottery industry to supply the jars in which those products were transported. As Greek trade, and colonies, flourished across the length and breadth of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, naval power was needed to suppress piracy. To control choke points like the Dardanelles and Bosporus, which led to the rich grain lands of what is now Ukraine, the Athenian empire developed."
Reuters is reporting that DNA scraped from inside clay vessels show that a ship that sank off the coast of Greece 2,400 years ago was carrying a cargo of olive oil, oregano, and probably wine. More here. This opens a new way for archaeologists to determine what was being carried by amphora such as those pictured.
A heads up from Amazon alerted the olive blog to a new book by Lin Foxhall to be released on 6 September 2007 -- "Olive Cultivation in Ancient Greece: Seeking the Ancient Economy". The Book's description says it "...explores the cultivation of the olive as an extended case study for understanding ancient Greek agriculture in its landscape, economic, social, and political settings. Evidence from written sources, archeology, and visual images is assembled to focus on what was special about the cultivation and processing of the olive in classical and archaic Greece, and how and why these practices differed from Roman ones." But at £65 this will remain on the wish list for all but a few historians.
In 2003 archaeologists in Cyprus, said to be home to Venus, (the Roman equivalent of Greek Aprodite the goddess of love), came across the world's oldest known perfume factory. A display of the prehistoric scents and 60 objects believed to be 4000 years old can now be seen at Rome's Capitoline Museums. The perfumes are made of olive oil, pine, coriander, laurel, bergamot, parsley and bitter almonds. More here.
The Anatolia news agency reports that a more than 2300 year olive oil factory has been rediscovered in the Milas village of Çakıralan in southwestern Turkey by archeolgists from Selçuk University. The region has produced and still produces olive oil.The find follows a search for coal uncovered tombs with adjacent chambers. More here.
Excavations at Masada have revealed what type of olives were eaten in Roman times. Ran Shapira, in an article at Haarretz, writes:
"Masada's olives sparked particular interest because an in-depth inquiry into their qualities found that since the Roman era, there has been no significant change in their agriculture. Masada residents ate olives from the exact same varieties that grow in Israel today, namely, Syrian, Nabali and Melisi. Researchers identified the varieties by inspecting the pits, their structure and symmetry. Olive pits were found whole, an indication that the olives were eaten in pickled form, and not used to produce oil. This speculation was reinforced by the fact that 90 percent of the olives on Masada were of the Nabali variety, which is most suited for pickling among the local varieties that grow in Israel.
The remaining 10 percent were primarily Syrian or Melisi olives, but there were also some amounts found of two varieties that do not grow in Israel, and need to be imported from neighboring countries. One is the Shami olive, which grows in Syria, and the other is the Toffahi, from Egypt. The pits of these varieties are substantially different from those of the local varieties. According to Kislev, who lectured this week at Masada at the Dead Sea Conference on Environmental Resources and Society, the two imported varieties are considered luxuries to this day, and Arab villages tend to use them as decoration for weddings and other occasions. He estimates that they were imported to Masada during the time when wealthy and high-ranking people lived there, such as King Herod himself or the Roman generals who besieged the mountain."