Olive oil & Crete - A relationship that began 8000 years ago!
In the centre of the northern part of Crete, near the city of Rethymno, lies the famous “Gerani” Cave – an impressive cave of enormous archaeological and paleontological value that was discovered by accident in 1969 through the use of explosives during the construction of the northern road axis of Crete.
The entrance to the cave was suddenly sealed by rocks before the end of the late Neolithic period, trapping three people and numerous stone and bone tools inside. Archaeological research showed that people of those time used olive oil in their food!
In other words, from foraging, i.e. already consuming raw olives in 6,000 BC, they soon shifted to exploiting the fruit, by draining its juices.
However, the systematic cultivation of olives and the use of olive oil would take place much later, during the Minoan era.
There are numerous findings related to the exploitation – some might say production – of olives in all centres of Minoan civilization on Crete. Starting with Knossos, the centre of Minoan civilization, we discover that there was a palatial olive grove comprising 400 olive trees, an olive oil mill outside the palace, as well as enormous urns for olive oil storage believed to have had a capacity of 250 tonnes of olive oil.
In the palace of Phaistos, located in the Messara Valley, there have been findings related to olive crushing and olive oil production.
In Kommos, the port of Phaistos on the southern coast of Crete, an intact Minoan olive oil mill was found; this is considered to be the oldest and most complete olive oil production facility of Minoan Crete (related tools, mortars, etc. have been found).
In eastern Crete, urns used for olive oil storage were found: they filled the warehouses of the famous palace of Kato Zakros (1,700 – 1,500 BC). It is certain that this product was transported to and from the Middle East and Egypt, since Zakros was one of the most important commercial ports of Crete. Furthermore, the world’s oldest table olives, 3,500 years old, were found in the now-famous cup located at the bottom of a well. These olives have attracted the interest of the scientific community due to their age, their use (it is believed a Minoan priest dedicated them to the chthonic goddesses) and their dematerialization just minutes after their discovery… “Unfortunately, the olives lost their sheen and flesh and hopelessly shrunk when removed from the environment in which they were found, i.e. the muddy waters of the Zakros well”.
Other findings include olive stones in Myrto, Ierapetra, in Knossοs, in Chamalevri, Rethymnon, where crushed olive stones have been found; this means that olive oil was produced in 2,000 BC and the stones were used as fuel for heating people’s homes.
Ιn Psira (1,500 BC), where a great trading-naval hamlet with close ties to Knossos thrived, murals and urns related to olives have been found.
On the Isle of Mochlos, north of Sitia (3,000 – 1,500 BC), findings include olive tree leaves with their stems.