The olive branch, symbol of peace.The olive tree, symbol of abundance, glory and peace, gave its leafy branches to crown the victorious in friendly games and bloody war. Olive crowns and branches, emblems of benediction and purification, were offered to deities and powerful figures. Olives have been found in Egyptian tombs, some were even found in Tutankhamen’s tomb.
The olive tree is one of the oldest cultivated trees known to mankind, originating in Asia Minor, between Syria and Iran, around 6000 B.C. Fossilized remains of the olive tree’s ancestor were found in Italy, dating from 20 million years ago. Olives were first cultivated in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean, and moved westwards over the millennia. Greeks and Romans propagated its cultivation in the Northern Mediterranean coasts.
About 5000 B.C. and up to 1400 B.C., olive cultivation spread from Crete to Syria, Palestine, and Israel, eventually spreading to Southern Turkey, Cyprus, and Egypt. Greece was the area most heavily cultivated until around 1500 B.C. Olive culture reached Southern Italy and Northern Africa in the 18 century B.C., then spreading into Southern France. Around 3000 B.C., olives were harvested and eaten in Spain.The Spanish Conquistadors, at the beginning of the 16th century, transferred olive tree plants to the Americas. Mexico had olive groves in regular production towards the end of the 16th century. They expanded to Peru and then to Chile. The olive tree reached the United States, mainly Southern California, in the 18th century. Many of these older groves (80-150 yrs old) still exist in California. Most are in Northern California. In Southern California, population and housing pressure have put the farmers out of business. In the past several hundred years the olive has spread to Japan, New Zealand and Australia.
The olive trees on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem are reputed to be over 2000 years old, still relative newcomers considering the long domestication of the olive.
The Bible provides us with one of the oldest quotations. The book of Genesis states: “Noah awaited seven days, after which he freed a dove, that returned with an olive tree branch in its beak as sign that the deluge had ended.”
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