Daily Israel Report

Ancient Olive Oil Press Unearthed in Galilee

An ancient Byzantine olive oil manufacturing complex has been uncovered at an archaeological dig at Moshav Achihud in the Western Galilee.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 8/7/2008, 10:02 AM / Last Update: 8/8/2008, 9:22 AM

Archaeologists have discovered an ancient olive press dating back to the Byzantine period at a dig at Moshav Achihud in the Western Galilee. The 6-7th century CE olive oil manufacturing complex, one of the largest uncovered in the Jewish State thus far, was found during routine test excavations being carried out as part of a development plan to enlarge the moshav.

A photo of the archaeology site
(Michael Cohen, IAA)

According to Michael Cohen, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority excavation, “a mighty conflagration occurred in the olive press in the seventh century CE. Remains of the blaze, which are quite evident on the walls of the building, destroyed the structure and negated the installation’s use."

Cohen said the event “preserved” many of the details of the olive press.

In the middle of the building a central crushing mill (a large round stone) was uncovered upon which a millstone (referred to as a memel) was placed. It was customary to harness an animal to the axle of the millstone which would turn the stone and thereby crush the olives.

The central crushing mill at the Ahihud olive press site
(Michael Cohen, IAA)

After crushing and breaking them, the olive pulp was brought for pressing in aqalim (baskets woven of coarse fabric or ropes). The aqalim were squeezed in a press and the olive oil was extracted as a result of this action. The baskets served as a filter whereby the liquid dripped out leaving the pits and pulp waste behind in the baskets.

Three screw type press beds and a stone weight that was originally connected to the end of a beam were revealed at the site. Alongside the press beds collecting vats, settling pits and other pools that were used to separate the oil from the watery lees (the non-oily liquid that is also expressed from the olives) were exposed.

Aerial photograph of the archaeological site - Skyview Ltd
Israel News Photo: (IAA)

Two built containers that were used to store the oil were exposed next to the oil production installations. The containers have a combined capacity of approximately 20,000 liters. The containers were paved with mosaic floors and treated with plaster.

The top of the wall that separates the two containers was paved with a mosaic, part of which is adorned with a geometric decoration and part bears an inscription that has not yet been deciphered.

The very elaborate and rare quality of the olive press and the inscription on the mosaic floor suggest that the complex was not built at the initiative of a local individual, said Cohen.

Among the artifacts recovered during the course of the excavations are numerous remains of roof tiles, a marble colonnette, two fragments of a marble chancel screen, many stem lamps, an imported plate with a figure carrying a child carved in its base and a bronze chain used to suspend a lamp.

Plate with a figure carrying a child carved in its base
(Michael Cohen, IAA)

According to Cohen, those items indicate that a church stood nearby, leading the archaeologists at the site to believe that the olive press could be situated inside the ruins of a Byzantine monastery.

Occupation of the area continued above the remains of the olive press, throughout the early Islamic period, he explained.

In addition to this unique discovery, other olive presses and wine presses were also found.  Cohen said that the location of the site, on a western spur of the Galilee along the Akko coastal plain, nine kilometers east of Akko, suggests that this was an agricultural production center that served the farming communities surrounding the principal city of Akko-Ptolemais.

Officials from the Israel Antiquities Authority and residents of the moshav are currently discussing various possibilities as to how best to conserve and present the special find so that the public can share the excitement of touching another part of ancient Israel.