The area of Antequera in Andalusia Southern Spain, is well known as a key producer of olive oil in Modern Times, however the recent discovery of the ruins of a Roman villa once dedicated to olive oil production supports the already substantial evidence that the importance of the product in the region dates back is ancient indeed.
With the discovery of five new villas over the last year, the Antequera basin, which lies in the province of Málaga, has become one of the areas with the largest number of such ruins throughout the Iberian Peninsula. The five new discoveries will add to the 44 villas already unearthed in the area that is famed for its archaeological significance.
The discovery of three of the new villas came during the excavation for the route of a new high speed train line, while the other three villas were chance findings. For the most part, the villas consisted of areas for agricultural work such as the production of olive oil, as well as those dedicated to housing and entertainment for its owners.
The findings reinforce archaeological studies suggesting that the olive tree has had a major impact on the economy of the region for the last 2,000 years. It seems that while processing techniques may have changed vastly over the period, the type of olive growing in the area has not: Analysis done on olive stones from the villas and surrounding areas by the Department of Agriculture at the University of Córdoba suggests that in ancient times the land was cultivated with a type of olive very similar to the modern Hojiblanca variety.
The villas are thought to have originated in the 1st century AD and continued operation well into the 5th century. Olive oil is known to have had great importance in this era, being used by the Romans for trade and even to pay taxes, and it appears that olive oil production was a key factor in the economy of Antequera even in these times. The area continues to be a key olive oil producer in the modern era, with acquisition of a Denomination of Origin in the year 2000, the first for the Málaga region.
It has been suggested that some of the new discoveries will be transported to the olive oil museum in the city, a popular tourist destination. The museum, which is operated by the olive oil cooperative Hojiblanca, also houses a reproduction of a winch type mill used in Roman times, a method of olive oil production that did not change until the twentieth century with the evolution of centrifuges, in addition to numerous ancient olive stones and other historically important olive oil related artifacts.