`Gethsemane Olive Trees Among World's Oldest - Olive Oil Times

Gethsemane Olive Trees Among World's Oldest

Oct. 30, 2012
Naomi Tupper

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A three year study con­ducted on three of the olive trees located in Gethsemane, Jerusalem, has shown that their trunks and branches are around 900 years old, mak­ing them among the old­est known olive trees.

The study, which was car­ried out by the Italian national research coun­cil in con­junc­tion with Italian uni­ver­si­ties, exam­ined sam­ples from three of the eight olive trees that stand in the reli­giously sig­nif­i­cant gar­den. The sam­ples indi­cated that the trees dated back to the mid 12th cen­tury, although it is thought that the roots may be even older than this.

Carbon dat­ing indi­cated that the three sam­ples came from the years 1092, 1166 and 1198 respec­tively. The remain­ing five trees could not be analysed as they have become so gnarled that the trunks are hol­lowed out, leav­ing only younger plant mate­r­ial.

The DNA analy­sis also showed that the trees all had an iden­ti­cal geno­type, indi­cat­ing they are likely have orig­i­nated from a com­mon par­ent’ tree. This sug­gests that the trees were orig­i­nally branch cut­tings taken from a larger tree, pos­si­bly in an attempt to sus­tain their lin­eage. This prac­tice is still com­mon today.


There is some debate as to the accu­racy of var­i­ous tech­niques in ascer­tain­ing the age of olive trees. Many ancient olive trees around the world have not under­gone reli­able sci­en­tific test­ing, and the esti­mates of their true age vary greatly.

Two famous olive trees often lay claim to being the world’s old­est. The olive tree of Vouves in Chania, Greece, a tree that still pro­duces fruit, is thought to be 2,000 years old accord­ing to tree ring analy­sis. However some sci­en­tists believe it is closer to 4,000 years in age. The other con­tender is the Al Badawi tree in the vil­lage of Al Walaja, Bethlehem, which is thought to be between 4,000 and 5,000 years old.

The Garden of Gethsemane, (Gethsemane means olive press’ in Hebrew), is an impor­tant loca­tion for Christians, Jews and Muslims. It is thought to be the place where Jesus Christ prayed before he was cru­ci­fied and was later betrayed by Judas.

Although there are men­tions of adult olive trees being present at this time in the Bible, it is unclear as to whether these are the same trees that stand in the spot today. Olive trees are capa­ble of grow­ing back from the roots if they are cut down, and there is also the pos­si­bil­ity that the trees were replanted or replaced at some point over the years.

The age of the sam­ples fits well with what is known of the period, based on travel chron­i­cles of pil­grims. It is alleged that the sec­ond Gethsemane balisca was con­structed around this period, and it seems likely that the gar­den was rearranged, result­ing in ren­o­va­tion of the olive trees dur­ing the build­ing process.

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