Olive Oil Processing
The cultivation and harvesting of olives was essential to Galilee’s first-century economy. A community olive processing installation included an olive crusher, which cracked the olives in order to produce an initial flow of oil, and an olive press.
Often, the presses at an olive installation were cut out of rock and could process large quantities of olives at one time. To do this, the olives were first crushed into a pulp, generally by means of a large stone column that rolled in a circular trough on the olives.
The crushed olives were then collected in special baskets and stacked on a flat rock surface that had a trench around the outside.
This type of press used a heavy limestone pillar which could be lifted by several people. The enormous weight of this pillar gradually squeezed the oil out of the pulp and through the basket’s walls. The oil was collected in the trench, and dripped down into the containers below.
There were actually several methods of pressing the olives. In some cases a long beam inserted in a hole in a nearby wall placed weights directly on the olives.
Later, a screw-type press was used in which a large, threaded pole stood on either side of the olive press. By turning the pole, pressure was exerted, squeezing the olives and extracting the precious oil.
Oil was sold as a highly valuable commodity or stored in clay jars in a cool place for the household’s use. On some occasions, the pulp was removed from the baskets and crushed and pressed again, although the best oil came from the first squeezing.
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