Ancient Olive Oil Production Artifact Found in Gethsemane

Archaeologists found a 2,000-year-old ritual bath, known as a Mikveh. The finding underscores the importance of olive oil production in Gethsemane during the time of Christ.

Photos: Nadim Asfour.
Jan. 6, 2021
By Ylenia Granitto
Photos: Nadim Asfour.

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A 2,000-year-old rit­ual bath used for the pro­duc­tion of olive oil was dis­cov­ered dur­ing exca­va­tions con­ducted in the Gethsemane area, in Jerusalem. The dis­cov­ery was announced dur­ing a press con­fer­ence orga­nized by the Custody of the Holy Land on the site.

See Also:New Insights Into the World’s Oldest Bottle of Olive Oil

The Israel Antiquities Authority began their archae­o­log­i­cal digs after the dis­cov­ery of sev­eral ancient find­ings dur­ing the con­struc­tion of a tun­nel meant to facil­i­tate the flow of vis­i­tors from the Church of all Nations (also known as Basilica of the Agony), located on the Mount of Olives, to the val­ley below.

Over the last weeks, under the direc­tion of Amit Re’em and David Yeger with the col­lab­o­ra­tion of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, a few impor­tant find­ings have been unearthed.

The archae­ol­o­gists found the remains of a church from the Byzantine period (6th cen­tury A.D.) located at the end of the under­ground pas­sage.


Halfway through the gallery, they also uncov­ered a Mikveh – the tub used for rit­ual immer­sions in Jewish tra­di­tion – that dates back to the time of the Second Temple period, when Christ lived. The rit­ual bath was eas­ily iden­ti­fied thanks to its well-pre­served typ­i­cal struc­ture, a series of steps that end in a basin.

This dis­cov­ery prob­a­bly con­firms the ancient name of the place, Gethsemane,” archae­ol­o­gist Amit Re’em said. According to Jewish purifi­ca­tion laws, work­ers involved in olive oil and wine pro­duc­tion must take puri­fy­ing baths in the spe­cial tub.

Gethsemane comes from the Aramaic word Gat Shemanim, mean­ing olive press,’ and indi­cated the pres­ence of an ancient oil mill. This sug­gests that, in all like­li­hood, the bath was used by those who made the rit­u­ally pure olive oil.


The dis­cov­ery is of par­tic­u­lar impor­tance since the only pre­vi­ous find­ings iden­ti­fied at the site from the same period were coins, which were found by farm­ers work­ing in the gar­den of Gethsemane.

See Also:History of Olive Oil

Some coins were also from peri­ods ear­lier than Jesus and there is one from the time of the gov­er­nor Pontius Pilate,” archae­ol­o­gist Father Eugenio Alliata of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum said.

The dis­cov­ery of the rit­ual bath once again demon­strates how olive oil pro­duc­tion impacted and pre­served key moments of human his­tory and cul­ture.

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