Amorphous organic residue from a large storage jar found at the Early Bronze Age settlement of Castelluccio in Sicily, Italy, suggests olive oil was being made on the island at the end of the 3rd millennium BC.
The prehistoric settlement of Castelluccio is located on a plateau bordered by the valley of Cava della Signora in the hilly region between Noto and Palazzolo Acreide, Sicily.
This site is well known in the archaeological literature for being the type-site for the Sicilian Bronze Age.
In the 1990s, a team of archaeologists led by Giuseppe Voza found about 400 ceramic fragments at the site.
Italian conservators restored and reassembled the fragments, resulting in an egg-shaped 3.5-foot (0.91 m) storage container adorned with rope bands and three vertical handles on each side.
At the same site, the archaeologists found two fragmented basins with an internal septum, indicating it was used to keep multiple substances together, but separate, along with a large terracotta cooking plate.
“The shape of this storage container and the nearby septum was like nothing else Voza found at the site in Castelluccio,” said University of South Florida researcher Davide Tanasi.
“It had the signature of Sicilian tableware dated to the end of the 3rd and beginning of the 2nd millennium BC (Early Bronze Age).”
“We wanted to learn how it was used, so we conducted chemical analysis on organic residues found inside.”
Dr. Tanasi and co-authors tested the three artifacts using techniques traditionally and successfully used on archaeological pottery: gas chromatography, mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance.
The researchers found organic residue from all three samples contained oleic and linoleic acids, signatures of olive oil.
“The identification via chemical analyses of olive oil on Sicilian tableware dated to the end of the 3rd and beginning of the 2nd millennium BC represents a very remarkable discovery,” Dr. Tanasi and colleagues said.
“The earliest olive cultivation and olive oil production in the Mediterranean, dating back to the Copper Age for some case studies in Israel, is usually well documented just from archaeological (mills and olive pressing vessels) and archaeobotanical perspectives (pollen, olives, wood, leaves).”
“The first chemical signature of olive oil were identified on samples from Minoan Crete: Aphrodite’s Kephali (3200–2700 BC), Chrysokamino (2300-1900 BC), and Tourloti (1200/1190-1070 BC).”
“With regards to the prehistory of Italy, the only cases known of identification of chemical signatures of olive oil are those of Broglio di Trebisacce (Cosenza) and Roca Vecchia (Lecce) where large storage jars dated to the local Late Bronze Age (12th-11th century BC) tested positive.”
“In this perspective, the results obtained with the three samples from Castelluccio become the first chemical evidence of the oldest olive oil in Italian prehistory, pushing back the hands of the clock for the systematic olive oil production by at least 700 years.”
The team’s results are published in the journal Analytical Methods.
Davide Tanasi et al. 1H NMR, 1H-1H 2D TOCSY and GC-MS analyses for the identification of olive oil on Early Bronze Age pottery from Castelluccio (Noto, Italy). Analytical Methods, published online May 7, 2018; doi: 10.1039/C8AY00420J
Source link: https://www.sci.news/archaeology/italys-oldest-olive-oil-06054.html