Olive tree cultivation and the production of olives and Olive Oil has been a catalyst in the evolution of the civilization in the Mediterranean region where some of the earliest human civilizations developed. As the cultivation of grain crops transformed the hunters and gatherers into farming societies, so the cultivation of the Olive tree represents an important cultural milestone in the evolution of Mediterranean cultures and in particular the Minoan civilization of Crete. The olive tree represents a cultural component that helped societies develop a higher level of cultural awareness. With the cultivation of the olive tree humans were able to develop commercial, cultural and social activities and interactions that were unimaginable earlier.
The existence of the wild olive tree (Olea Europaea Chrysophylla: KOTINOS) have been documented in the Mediterranean region by various archaeological and palaeontologic studies. The earliest olive fossils have been discovered in recent archaeological studies in the caldera of the island of Santorini (Thera) and they date back 50-60,000 years. The cultivated variety of the olive tree descends from these early species. This botanical progenitor of the olive tree is still grown on the mountainsides of Crete.
At about 3000 BC the early Minoan civilizations of Crete first recognized the importance of this precious gift of nature and found ways to cultivate it, trade its products and spread the cultivated variety around the Mediterranean region. From various archaeological findings (frescos, seals, coins, jewels, utensils, etc.), historians have concluded that the olive was one of the most important sources of prosperity for the Minoan Crete. Findings from the palace of Knossos in Crete indicate that people consumed olives and used olive oil for cooking and for fuel in lamps. Rooms with rows of large clay storage devices, called pithy, used for the storage of olives and olive oil, have been discovered and can be seen in Knossos, Phaistos and other places in Crete.
The spread of the cultivated variety of the olive tree to western places continued with the Minoans and the Phoenicians. In the 9th century BC the olive tree reached the rest of the Greek islands in the Aegean and arrived in Libya and Carthage. The Greeks recognized the importance of the olive and further extended olive farming and spread it to their cities along the entire Mediterranean basin. The olive tree reached such places as Sicily, Sardinia, Spain, France and many places in northern Africa and the Greek Ionian states of Asia minor.
Later the Romans discovered olive trees through their contacts with the Greek colonies in Italy. Although the Romans were not admirers of olives and olive oil they recognized their commercial importance and expanded the tree throughout the empire. The Romans used olive oil in their baths and as a fuel, but, for edible purposes they considered it as a commodity of moderate quality. The subsequent rise of the Roman empire and the conquest of Greece, Asia Minor and north Africa increased the trading channels around the Mediterranean basin and olive oil became far more important, not only as a staple food, but also as a pharmaceutical and energy source.
From the days of Hippocrates and Democritus to
the present, many studies have pointed out the significant nutritive value of
olive oil, to such an extent that during this last century the cultivation of
olives has spread to countries far from the Mediterranean. Like many agricultural
food products, olive oil maintains the characteristics of the original raw material:
olive fruit. Therefore it is impossible to produce good oil from poor-quality
raw material. That is why it is necessary to select the fruit carefully and
to process it according to very strict rules. The people that bring you KOTINOS
know the details; after all we are working with a 4000 year old tradition.
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