Archaeologist seeks to recreate ancient Egypt’s 'torsion method' for olive oil production



Thu, 09 Jun 2022 - 11:54 GMT


Thu, 09 Jun 2022 - 11:54 GMT

Ancient Egyptian inscription of an olive tree - social media

Ancient Egyptian inscription of an olive tree - social media

CAIRO – 9 January 2022: Emlyn Dodd, an archaeologist who specializes in the study of ancient food and drink, seeks to recreate the ancient and original method of pressing Egyptian olive oil called the "torsion method", which was first documented 4,600-4,500 years ago.





Dodd wanted to understand the practical aspects of the ancient Egyptian olive oil production. The steps begin with crushing the olives and placing them inside a permeable bag, and then sticks are fixed on both ends of the bag. The chopsticks are then twisted in opposite directions, compressing the bag and extracting most of the olive oil.





The torsion method has been recorded around 2600-2500 BC in the Nebemakhet tomb, son of Khafre, a king and vizier during the Fourth Dynasty (about 2613-2494 BC), according to the ancient-origins website.





Although the Egyptians had initially used this torsion method to produce wine, Dodd wanted to test this technique for making olive oil, to see what quality could be produced. A simple cheesecloth was used as a sack for this process, and a basic mortar and pestle method from 5000 BC was used to crush a mixture of green and black olives until it became a paste.




The Cretan Greeks were the first to produce olive oil in quantity. This is an ancient olive oil production workshop in Klazomenai, Ionia, in modern-day Turkey. (Public Domain)





The ancient Cretans already understood the "Mediterranean diet" and the value of olive oil nearly 10,000 years ago. Over time, olive oil quickly became one of the staples of the ancient Mediterranean world. In fact, olive oil was a major ingredient in international trade, cuisine, personal hygiene, rituals, medicine, fuel, and for making soap.





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With the expansion of Greco-Roman culture in the eighth century BC, the cosmetic use of olive oil spread in less than 100 years to most Greek city-states, despite the fact that it was very expensive. With the establishment of Greek colonies in other parts of the Mediterranean, olive cultivation was introduced to places such as Spain (Spain is today the largest producer of olives in the world) and spread through the Roman Empire.





The civilizations that formed in and around the Mediterranean region devoted much of their time and energies to crafting efficient methods for harvesting and producing olive oil. Ancient agricultural texts accurately describe the tools and equipment required, how and where olive trees are grown, and other practical details of production. There are also some historical accounts available that discuss olive oil. For example, a novel by Pliny the Elder mentions how important olive oil is to the body, describing it as a "necessity".



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