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
By Rosa Gonzalez-Lamas
Jan. 2, 2019 11:08 UTC
Courtesy Dr. Atilla Engin

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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