Remains of 2,500-Year-Old Mill Discovered in Italy

They believe it is the earliest olive oil mill found in Magna Graecia, a region that encompasses most of Italy's southern coastline, where ancient Greek colonists arrived 3,500 years ago.
Photo: Lucano Agency for Development and Innovation in Agriculture
By Paolo DeAndreis
Feb. 12, 2021 06:31 UTC

An ancient olive oil mill dat­ing to the 4th cen­tury B.C. has been uncov­ered dur­ing arche­o­log­i­cal exca­va­tions in the province of Matera.

Located in the Basilicata region in south­ern Italy, the archae­ol­o­gists said that the find­ing is sen­sa­tional due to both its struc­ture and age.

On this 4th cen­tury B.C. pave­ment, some plant macro-fos­sils of Olea Europaea were found in excel­lent con­di­tion.- archae­ol­o­gists, University of Basilicata

They believe it is the ear­li­est olive oil mill found in Magna Graecia, a region that encom­passes most of Italy’s south­ern coast­line, where ancient Greek colonists arrived 3,500 years ago.

The dis­cov­ery was made within the exca­vat­ing site of Ferrandina, a town still renowned for its high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil.

See Also:Ancient Olive Oil Production Artifact Found in Gethsemane

Its sur­round­ings and arche­o­log­i­cal past are highly rel­e­vant for researchers search­ing for the remains of ancient com­mu­ni­ties that set­tled in the area as early as the Iron Age.

In a press release, sci­en­tists from the University of Basilicata and the regional arche­o­log­i­cal agency explained that the site’s pri­mary evi­dence includes an olive oil recep­ta­cle built with dry stone walls.

From there, sev­eral chan­nels branch off and fol­low the nat­ural slope bring­ing them to stone basins, which arche­ol­o­gists believe were used for the purifi­ca­tion of the olive oil.

According to the researchers, hor­i­zon­tal beams with mobile coun­ter­weights formed the ancient press, under which a rounded sup­port basin was placed to col­lect the olive pulp.


Lucano Agency for Development and Innovation in Agriculture

The cur­rent exca­va­tions were under­taken sev­eral years ago after arche­ol­o­gists found two press­ing bases, cur­rently in the museum of Metaponto, a nearby city. The researchers also found traces of a press with a wooden frame on the clay floor.

To the east and south of the oil cell, a large open space was found, with a well-com­pacted clay walk­ing sur­face intended for the pro­cess­ing of olives,” the archae­ol­o­gists said. There, on this 4th cen­tury B.C. pave­ment, some plant macro-fos­sils of Olea europaea were found in excel­lent con­di­tion.”

Paleobotany experts will ana­lyze the olives’ car­po­log­i­cal remains to bet­ter under­stand their ori­gin and shed some light on the local ancient cul­ti­var, Majatica, the most com­monly grown vari­ety in Ferrandina.

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

The exca­va­tions will con­tinue since a whole set­tle­ment is believed to have arisen in the same loca­tion as the olive oil mill, with res­i­den­tial quar­ters and pro­duc­tion facil­i­ties. Researchers will also look for the areas ded­i­cated to the press­ing and stor­age of the olives.

The dis­cov­ery wit­nesses the ancient incli­na­tion for olive grow­ing in the Ferrandina ter­ri­tory, which is renowned for its high-qual­ity olive oil,” said Lucrezia Digilio and Paolo Colonna from Donne in Campo and the orga­ni­za­tion of the Lucano olive oil pro­duc­ers, Oprol, respec­tively.

They believe that the arche­ol­o­gists’ work fur­ther strength­ens PGI Olio Lucano, a brand that goes beyond the qual­ity and also rec­og­nizes his­tory, tra­di­tion and pas­sion of the olive grow­ers on our ter­ri­tory.”

Growers and experts are now wait­ing for the results of the pale­ob­otany analy­sis on the uncov­ered olive remains.

As it is well-known, the most grown cul­ti­var in Ferrandina is the Majatica, whose ded­i­cated groves extend on 4,250 hectares,” Digilio and Colonna said. This dis­cov­ery encour­ages us to con­tinue build­ing the inter-regional olive oil pro­duc­tion chain, an ini­tia­tive that is help­ing local grow­ers to restruc­ture their busi­nesses and be more com­pet­i­tive on the mar­ket.”


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