In what could be called a Hanukkah miracle, researchers from the Israel Antiquities Authority have discovered what they believe to be evidence of the earliest use of olive oil in not just Israel, but possibly the entire Middle East. An archaeological salvage excavation between 2011 and 2013 led by Ianir Milevski and Nimrod Getzov in the Lower Galilee – a region in northern Israel — unearthed 8,000-year-old remains of olive oil, according to a release from the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The excavation took place in the ‘En Zippori area in the Lower Galilee before the widening of Highway 79, which cuts through the region. The research team took samples from pieces of pottery at the site. With the help of Dvory Namdar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Institute of Earth and Science, the team conducted chemical tests on the objects to determine what “organic remains” were still “absorbed in the sides of the vessel.”
Out of 20 items that were sampled, two were especially ancient, dating back to about 5,800 B.C.
The team’s announcement is certainly seasonally appropriate, taking place at the start of Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday that commemorates the re-dedication of Jerusalem’s Holy Temple during the second-century B.C. The story of Hanukkah describes the olive oil being used to light a menorah at the temple that shined brightly for eight days.
Despite the significance of the find to Jewish culture, the community that actually used the olive oil was actually pre-Jewish, Milevski told The Times of Israel.
“We have no writing during that period so we know little about them,” he said. “We do not know what language they spoke but we assume it was an early Semitic language, from which Babylonian and Akkadian evolved and later also Hebrew and Arabic.”