Did Greek colonisation bring olive growing to the north? An integrated archaeobotanical investigation of the spread of Olea europaea in Greece from the 7th to the 1st millennium bc

Abstract

This paper discusses the distribution of archaeobotanical remains of Olea europaea (olive) across space and through time in mainland Greece and the Aegean from Neolithic to Hellenistic times (7th millennium-1st century bc) in order to explore the history of olive use in the study area. Olive stones and olive charcoal retrieved from prehistoric and historic sites on mainland Greece and the islands offer the basis for a discussion of the context and processes involved in the introduction of olive cultivation to the study area. The olive was nearly absent for most of the Neolithic and only appears in the southern parts of mainland Greece and the islands towards the end of the period. From the Early Bronze Age onwards it becomes increasingly visible in the archaeobotanical record. A possible cause for the introduction and increased presence of the olive during the Bronze Age could have been for oil production for elite use and trade. From the Bronze Age palaces of the 2nd millennium bc to the Hellenistic kingdoms towards the end of the 1st millennium bc, the olive thrived and was introduced northwards to new terrain, more marginal for olive growing than the warm lands of southern Greece. This introduction of olives to the northern Aegean region could be attributed to Greek colonisation and the increase in later times to a gradually increasing need for olive oil, perhaps associated with the emergence of new lifestyles, such as training in gymnasia.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to all excavators who have entrusted us with the study of archaeobotanical material from their sites. Funding of work contributed in this article has been provided by INSTAP and ESF-NSRF Thalis (Maria Ntinou), the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Research Committee (Eugenia Gkatzogia), and the European Research Council project PLANTCULT, “Identifying the food cultures of ancient Europe”, under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program (Grant Agreement no. 682529, Consolidator Grant 2016–2021). Tassos Bekiaris helped with Fig. 2, Guillermo Pascual Berlanga prepared the maps and J. Perreault kindly made available the material from Argilos. We thank H. Blitzer, N. Kennel, A. Livarda, P. Nigdelis, P. Anagnostoudis, N. Vouronikou, A. Tzelepidou and Tz. Popova for help with the literature. We also wish to thank James Greig for editing the text, and Charlène Bouchaud and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments.

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Valamoti, S.M., Gkatzogia, E. & Ntinou, M. Did Greek colonisation bring olive growing to the north? An integrated archaeobotanical investigation of the spread of Olea europaea in Greece from the 7th to the 1st millennium bc. Veget Hist Archaeobot 27, 177–195 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00334-017-0631-1

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Keywords

  • Olea europaea
  • Greek colonisation
  • Olive oil
  • Olive cultivation
  • Gymnasia