Business & Economy

Sea of Galilee, the cradle of Mediterranean olive cultivation

Laura Fernández Paloma

Deir Hanna, Nov 17 (efe-epa).- “The Mount of the Million Olive Trees”, which surrounds the Sea of Galilee, preserves the robust and twisted hundred-year old trees of a storied past, the origins of a crop that today bathes the whole of the Mediterranean in oil and olives.

“I showed that the southern Levant provides the earliest evidence, and specifically the area of the Sea of Galilee, of olive oil cultivation dated to 7,000 years ago,” Professor Dafna Langgut of Tel Aviv University tells Efe.

Langgut set out to settle the debate between countries in the Mediterranean basin, such as Spain, Morocco and Greece, which are competing to demonstrate that they were the pioneers in the domestication of the olive tree. For her, the origin lies in ancient Israel, in the region known as the southern Levant, an area that today would include Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

Her research followed the trail of pollen fossils, compiling existing palynological studies and – using archaeological and archaeobotanical evidence – comparing the periods of sudden increases in these grains, which can remain fossilized for thousands of years.

The data was clear. While in Spain, for example, the samples place the crop 2,500 years ago, in this region on the shores of Lake Tiberias (the biblical Sea of Galilee) it is more than six millennia old.


In today’s northern Israel, olive trees have a name. And it is common to see robust olive trunks twisting their way up from the middle of a road’s asphalt in a residential street displaying their longevity.

The residents who own land, who are mostly Arabs, these days dedicate themselves to harvesting the olive, a kind which they call “Roman” that they believe to be thousands of years old, Mazen Ali, native of Deir Hannan and director of the Center of Patrimony of the Old Olive tree, tells Efe.

In fact, they are only centuries old, says Langgut, according to carbon dating that has been carried out which dates them to around 900 years. Because of their complex anatomical structure, olive trees do not produce an annual ring on the woody stem, a common measure used by some to date them.

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