the history of olive oil
The origin of the olive tree is lost in time, coinciding and mingling with the expansion of the Mediterranean civilisations which for centuries governed the destiny of mankind and left their imprint on Western culture.
Fossilized remains of the olive tree's ancestor were found near Livorno, Italy, dating from twenty million years ago, although actual cultivation probably did not occur in that area until the 5th century B.C.
Olives were actually first cultivated in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean c. 5000 B.C. and then moved steadily westwards over the millennia to c. 1500 B.C. from Crete to Syria, Palestine and Israel and then to Turkey, Cyprus, Egypt and Greece. With the expansion of the Greek empire, olive culture reached Southern Italy and Northern Africa in the 8th century B.C. and then spread into Southern France and also Spain.Olive trees were planted throughout the Mediterranean under Roman rule.
With the discovery of America (1492) olive farming spread beyond its Mediterranean confines. The first olive trees were carried from Seville to the West Indies and later to the American Continent. By 1560 olive groves were being cultivated in Mexico, then later in Peru, California, Chile and Argentina, where one of the plants brought over during the Conquest - the old Arauco olive tree - lives to this day.
In more modern times the olive tree has continued to spread outside the Mediterranean and today is farmed in places as far removed from its origins as southern Africa, Australia, Japan and China. As Duhamel said, "the Mediterranean ends where the olive tree no longer grows", which can be capped by saying that "There where the sun permits, the olive tree takes root and gains ground".