Thursday, June 16, 2022

Olive Trees Domesticated In Levant Ca. 5000 BCE

This particularly domestication of olive and fig trees in the Copper Age in the Jordan Valley isn't very surprising (in contrast, for example, to the belated and complicated domestication of the almond tree or the long distance migration involved in banana domestication). But, it is still notable and helps piece together the overall chronology and story of plant and animal domestication over time.
A new study has unraveled the earliest evidence for domestication of a fruit tree, researchers report. The researchers analyzed remnants of charcoal from the Chalcolithic site of Tel Zaf in the Jordan Valley and determined that they came from olive trees. Since the olive did not grow naturally in the Jordan Valley, this means that the inhabitants planted the tree intentionally about 7,000 years ago.

The paper and its abstract are as follows:
This study provides one of the earliest examples of fruit tree cultivation worldwide, demonstrating that olive (Olea europaea) and fig (Ficus carica) horticulture was practiced as early as 7000 years ago in the Central Jordan Valley, Israel. 
It is based on the anatomical identification of a charcoal assemblage recovered from the Chalcolithic (7200–6700 cal. BP) site of Tel Tsaf. Given the site’s location outside the wild olive’s natural habitat, the substantial presence of charred olive wood remains at the site constitutes a strong case for horticulture. 
Furthermore, the occurrence of young charred fig branches (most probably from pruning) may indicate that figs were cultivated too. One such branch was 14C dated, yielding an age of ca. 7000 cal. BP. 
We hypothesize that established horticulture contributed to more elaborate social contracts and institutions since olive oil, table olives, and dry figs were highly suitable for long-distance trade and taxation.
Dafna Langgut, Yosef Garfinkel. 7000-year-old evidence of fruit tree cultivation in the Jordan Valley, Israel. 12(1) Scientific Reports (2022) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-10743-6


Unknown said...

What on earth is "acorn tree domestication"? I have several oaks growing on my land, and at least three of these have sprung up with no effort on my part: I suspect, through acorn-burying squirrels.

andrew said...

Domestication may not be precisely the right word, but acorns aren't edible without processing which took a long time to perfect as Jared Diamond relates in the book "Guns, Germs and Steel" which is summarized at

andrew said...

But I also got almonds and acorns flipped in my head and revised the post to reflect that. This is discussed in the link above also.

DDeden said...

Same time and probable place that western and eastern date palms were mated?,genetic%20differentiation%20between%20these%20regions.

Tom Bridgeland said...

Some acorns are naturally 'sweet' in that tannin content is low. Unfortunately breeding oak is difficult because it is wind pollinated, so edible (without the processing) acorns are rare.

A thought, I suspect that a careful investigation of pre-agricultural sites would show a shift in species numbers towards plants humans like. Olives and figs are both easy to carry, and might naturally grow anyplace humans camped if the climate was right.