The olive tree would be the first fruit tree to be domesticated by humans 7000 years ago

The olive tree, a symbol of the Mediterranean region and the Middle East, would now have a new record: the oldest fruit tree tamed by humans, according to a study published in the journal Nature – Scientific reports (16/6/2022).

This discovery is the result of the joint work of two researchers, Dr. Dafna Langgut, Director of the Laboratory of Archaeobotany at the University of Tel Aviv, and Prof. Yosef Garfinkel, of the Department of Archeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel).

The first carried out an in-depth analysis of the remains of coal, excavated during archeological excavations led by her colleague in the village of Tel Zaf, in the heart of the Jordan Valley in Jordan. A site dating from the Copper Age, or Chalcolithic, about 7000 years ago.

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Wood was the ‘plastic’ of the ancient world. It was used for construction, manufacture of tools and furniture and as an energy source“, Explains Dafna Langgut in a press release.Therefore, identification of tree remains has been found at archeological sites (…) is a key element in understanding the types of trees that grew in the natural environment at the time and when humans began to grow fruit trees. “

An identification based on specific techniques: “Trees, even reduced to ash, can be identified by their anatomical structure“, the researcher clarifies. It is thanks to microscopic analysis that she was able to determine from simple fragments that the charred tree present in a fireplace in the village of Tel Zaf originated from olive branches and fig trees.

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Olive trees grow wild in the territory of Israel, but they do not grow in the Jordan Valley“, notes Dr. Langgut.”This means that someone brought them there on purpose and transported both the necessary knowledge and the plant itself to a place outside its natural habitat.

For the archaeobotanist it would be “oldest evidence of olive domestication in the world“, or even”the world’s first evidence of domestication of fruit trees“.

The olive tree, a tree associated with the emergence of a complex society

An astonishing find – and nonetheless consistent according to the authors of the study, given that growing fruit trees is a testament to luxury; this archeological site is rightly known to have been exceptionally prosperous.

Tel Zaf was a large prehistoric village in the middle Jordan Valley, south of Beit She’an, inhabited between 7,200 and 6,700 years ago“, clarifies Yosef Garfinkel.”Large houses with patios have been discovered on the site, each with several grain magazines for storing crops. The storage capacity was up to 20 times greater than the calorie consumption in a single family, so they were clearly saves for storing considerable wealth.

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The opulence of the village was also manifested by “production of sophisticated ceramics, painted with remarkable skill“, adds the archaeologist.”In addition, we found items brought far from: pottery from the Ubaid culture Mesopotamiaobsidian from Anatolia, a copper punch from the Caucasus and more. “

An interpretation confirmed by the researcher in archaeobotany. “Taming fruit trees is a process that takes many years and is therefore well-suited to a society of abundance, rather than one that struggles to survive. Trees do not bear fruit until 3-4 years after planting“, she notes.

The domestication of the olive tree would therefore testify to the emergence of a complex society capable of making a strong investment in resources at the time of planting, of which it then bequeaths the “fruits” – literally and figuratively – to the future generations. In fact, an olive tree can live up to … 3000 years!

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“It is very possible that the inhabitants of Tel Zaf traded in products derived from fruit trees, such as olives, olive oil and dried figs, which have a long shelf life.“, the researcher argues.”These products may have enabled long-distance trade that led to the accumulation of material wealth and possibly even the imposition of taxes – initial steps in the transformation into a society with a socio-economic hierarchy. .

A hypothesis reinforced by the discovery, same place, of the oldest stamps – suggesting the early existence of administrative procedures.

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