Millenary Olive Seeds Found in Important Archeological Site in Turkey

4,000-year-old olive seeds and utensils were been found in Oylum Höyük, an historical mound located in a fertile plain in Kilis province in Southeastern Turkey.

Courtesy Dr. Atilla Engin
Jan. 2, 2019
By Rosa Gonzalez-Lamas
Courtesy Dr. Atilla Engin

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A valu­able col­lec­tion of dozens of olive seeds was dis­cov­ered inside lay­ers dat­ing back 4,000 years dur­ing an arche­o­log­i­cal exca­va­tion in Oylum Höyük, an his­tor­i­cal mound located in a fer­tile plain in Kilis province in South­east­ern Turkey, which is con­sid­ered one of the biggest of its kind in the East­ern Mediter­ranean Region.

The exca­va­tions revealed not only these mil­lenary olive seeds but also basaltic grind­ing stones pre­sumed to be used to pro­duce olive oil.

Olive seeds were found in all Early Bronze Age and Mid­dle Bronze Age lev­els in Oylum Höyük. Some of the olive seeds were found in the Mid­dle Bronze Age I (2000 – 1800 BC) Palace, which ended with a fire,” said Atilla Engin, the arche­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Gaziantep Uni­ver­sity respon­si­ble for the exca­va­tions.

The olive seeds recov­ered from the mon­u­men­tal Mid­dle Bronze Age Palace were dated to between 1900 – 1725 BC accord­ing to radio­car­bon analy­sis. The archae­o­log­i­cal mate­ri­als uncov­ered in the same layer also con­firmed this dat­ing,” Engin told Olive Oil Times.

Accord­ing to the arche­ol­o­gist, the seeds are thought to be of old local olives and the rea­son these 4,000-year-old sam­ples sur­vived is that they are burned and charred. This pre­vented the decay that other mil­lenary herbal organic mate­ri­als suc­cumb to.


A mound formed by the over­lap of the set­tle­ment lay­ers for thou­sands of years, Oylum Höyük was one of the most impor­tant cities and admin­is­tra­tive cen­ters of the ancient Near East dur­ing the Bronze Ages (3100 – 1200 BC). Engin believes it was the cap­i­tal of the Nuhasse coun­try in this period.

We have been able to reach the Late Chal­col­ithic Age (3500 – 3000 BC) lay­ers in Oylum Höyük. How­ever, accord­ing to the sur­face finds, the mound has been inhab­ited since the Neolithic Age and shows a con­ti­nu­ity of 9,000 years of set­tle­ment,” he said.

Oylum Höyük is not the first archae­o­log­i­cal cen­ter where olive seeds were found, but the recently dis­cov­ered seeds are among the ear­li­est, Engin declared. Olive seeds were uncov­ered in the lay­ers of the Mid­dle Bronze Age (2000 – 1600 BC) of Oylum Höyük in the last and pre­vi­ous exca­va­tion sea­sons. Pre­vi­ously, we found olive seeds in the Late Early Bronze Age (2500 – 2100 BC) layer,” he detailed.

The province of Kilis is home to the olive groves cul­ti­vated at the high­est alti­tude (900 – 1,000 meters) in Turkey. The East­ern Mediter­ranean Region, where Kilis is located, is the home­land of olives and the region from where olives spread to the world.

This region is the moth­er­land of olive. The use of olives as a food in this region may be as old as human his­tory. The ear­li­est writ­ten doc­u­ments on the pro­duc­tion and trade of olive oil were found in ancient Ebla (Tell Mardikh,) located in North­ern Syria, about 100 km south of Oylum Höyük,” said Engin.

Accord­ing to Ebla’s cuneiform tablets dat­ing to 2400 – 2300 BC, Ebla exported 700 tons of olive oil annu­ally. It is thought that olive trees were first cul­ti­vated in this period in the region. Pre­vi­ously, olives were col­lected from olive trees grow­ing nat­u­rally on the steppes,” he added.

Olive oil was very valu­able in ancient times and both olives and olive oil had many uses in sec­tors other than food.

Accord­ing to Ebla archives, olive oil was ten times more expen­sive than wine and dou­ble the price of sesame oil. Dur­ing the Bronze Age it was also employed as light fuel in oil lamps and in drug, per­fume and tex­tile pro­duc­tion.

Olive oil was impor­tant for the min­ing indus­try as it was used to increase the tem­per­a­ture of the wood that helped burn met­als. All these fea­tures prob­a­bly con­tributed to bring­ing olives and olive oil from the East­ern Mediter­ranean to the West­ern world dur­ing the Bronze Age, Engin explained.

Some of the 4,000-year-old seeds found in Oylum Höyük were sent to lab­o­ra­to­ries for exam­i­na­tion. Engin said that the Olive Research Insti­tute at Antakya Uni­ver­sity inves­ti­gates the rela­tion­ship between these mil­lenary seeds and the local olives and that sim­i­lar research col­lab­o­ra­tions with other insti­tu­tions are likely.

Some of the seeds will be pre­served to be exhib­ited along with the grind­ing stones at Kilis Museum, expected to open soon.

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