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The olive and the vine in European Prehistory

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Origins of the olive and the vine

A study of the olive and the vine in European prehistory was conducted to reassess their biogeography and detect the origins of wine and olive oil production in Europe.

Climate Change and Environment

Wine and olive oil are some of today's favoured products that played an important role in European prehistory. The cultivation, domestication and exploitation of the vine and the olive transformed the agricultural, economic and social history of Europe. Without these crops and their products, wine and oil, the environment, landscape, farming and trade would have been entirely different. An EU-funded project, OVIPE (The olive and the vine in European prehistory), has reconstructed the biogeography of the olive and the vine, explored their movement into Europe, and defined the processes behind their early exploitation. Analytical and theoretical approaches were integrated in order to view the domestication process as a basic causal chain. Human behavioural change leads to genetic change and therefore to the morphological change of plants. Such changes were detected through evidence for landscape modification, increase of domesticated species, morphological changes, crop processing, technological change, and increased and improved storage facilities. Work involved gathering olive stones and grape pip of modern old varieties in Greece and Cyprus. By analysing the variety of seed morphology, accurate criteria were determined that made it possible to differentiate between modern wild and cultivated samples. The team also created a large collection of archaeobotanical data and models. Following that, wood charcoal of vine and olive in the samples from eight 3rd millennium sites in Crete were identified. Data results were combined with the previous information from the archaeobotanical material taken from the same sites. Additionally, charcoal data from the Near East and the coast of Turkey was gathered in order to understand the timeframe of similar transformations at routes into Europe. Through extensive fieldwork and characterisation, of archaeobotanical remains of large quantities of pressed grapes and crushed olive stones, the presence of residues of wine and olive oil production from eight sites of the 3rd and the 2nd millennium in Greece and Cyprus was evident. Results indicate that the charcoal evidence signifies intensive interaction of both olive and vine during the 3rd millennium in Greece and Cyprus. This strongly suggests their cultivation and not merely their gathering from the wild. Dissemination of OVIPE results included a collaborative article for the Journal of Archaeological Science.


Olive, vine, wine, olive oil, European prehistory, OVIPE

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