Numerous archaeological excavations have brought to light utensils, inscriptions, manuscripts as well as fossils, all of them pointing at the same conclusion: olive oil has been prominent in everyday life since ancient times.
It is probable that its use extended to 4 main axes:
- Beauty rituals
Let’s go back thousands of years ago, through the valuable information obtained from archeological findings, regarding the first ever known civilization in Europe with such a developed structure.
1. OLIVE OIL - THE CORNERSTONE OF MINOAN ECONOMY
According to the French researcher Paul Faure, systematic cultivation of olive tree seems to have its origin in Crete, during the Neolithic era.
The development of a well-structured economy by the Minoan civilization was mainly based on the cultivation of olive trees and vineyards.
In fact, the French archeologist Paul Faure mentioned: “The olive tree ensures the economic domination of Crete in the Aegean world”.
The olive tree had its own depiction in the Cretan hieroglyphic writing, which seems to have been preserved in the famous Linear A script.
In fact, clay tablets written in Linear A were retrieved from excavations in Archanes. In these ancient tablets, the ideogram concerning olives, olive oil and other goods, such as wheat and wine are clearly presented. These records are considered to be of accounting content, a theory enhanced by the presence of olive seed fossils and ceramic pots for storing goods, in the same area.
However, the Minoans did not produce olive oil exclusively for domestic use. An Egyptian hieratic papyrus, dating back to 2,200 BC, confirms the existence of trading relations between Egypt and the "Island of Kefti", as they used to call Crete.
2. OLIVE OIL - A SYMBOL OF WORSHIP
There are many depictions of olives that are preserved on some of the most beautiful works of art from the palaces of Minoan civilization.
A well-known mural from Knossos (the image at the top of the page) depicts olive trees surrounded by Minoans, gathered together at a rather ritual event in a sacred grove.
Then, the famous Agia Triada (Holy Trinity) sarcophagus of the archaeological site in Messara, located only a few kilometres away from Faistos, has a characteristic olive tree, planted behind the altar. The existence of the olive tree in this prominent position can be attributed to the sacred character, not only of the place but also of the tree itself.
Moreover, one of the major scriptures found in the palace of Knossos, is an inscription demonstrating oil quantities offered to gods. In fact, this specific finding mentions the estimated quantities of oil dedicated to each temple.
Furthermore, an inscription of the 4th century BC was discovered in the Cretan village Driros, which reveals the appearance of olive tree in initiation ceremonies, thus ensuring its sacred aura. In particular, every young Minoan was obliged to plant an olive tree and take care of it until his mature age, in order to prove his dedication and responsibility skills.
This devotion to the olive tree continued even after the extinction of the Minoan civilization, in ancient Greece. The olive trees in the sacred rock of Athens, Acropolis, are surrounded by the rumour that they were planted by the ancient Greek goddess Athena herself.
So great was the sanctity of the olive trees in Ancient Athens, that they were protected by the Areopagus, with severe punishment imposed on anyone who dared to harm these symbols of worship.
“And if anyone was about to be judged by the Areopagus for breach of the law against cutting down olive trees, if found guilty, he was sentenced to death”
Aristotle, Athenian Constitution 60, 2, 4-7
Besides, an indicative practice that has survived until today is to attribute the highest honour to the Olympic champions, through a branch of wild olive tree, an olive wreath named kotinos.
3. OLIVE OIL - THE KING OF CRETAN DIET
Excavations at the Minoan palaces revealed that the Minoans collected the olive fruit from two types of trees: the wild and the tame olive tree.
Regarding the olive cultivation, it is obvious that they displayed such developed skills, that they were able to divide the produced fruit into edible and oil production olives.
Furthermore, among the items recovered next to buried Minoans, charred seeds of edible olives were found in most cases.
This fact is attributed to a farewell ceremony and the provision of the necessary goods for the long journey to death. This habit does not seem to have been abandoned even in the post-Minoan years, according to excavations in a small section of Heraklion, called Poros.
Leaving behind the dusty and buried beneath the ground warehouses of the Minoan civilization, with the charred olive seeds and the storage containers of olive oil of various sizes, we return to modern times where the landscape has not changed much.
Cretans still respect and honor the most valuable element of their diet: olives and olive oil.
Travellers arriving in Crete are often surprised by the amount of olive oil that each household consumes. Olive oil flows freely on the daily table: starting from the salad, where olive oil shines abundantly on feta cheese, sprinkled with oregano, to every single cooked dish, as there are only a few that do not require the use of olive oil for their preparation.
According to the famous Seven Countries Study,conducted by Ancel Keys in the late 1950s, Cretans who consistently consumed foods rich in olive oil had the best health indicators of all regions participating in this study.
In fact, cardiovascular diseases and tumours were almost non-existent for Cretan residents, while at the same time northern countries were experiencing alarmingly high mortality rates. This difference can be attributed to the consumption of olive oil by the Cretans.
“My God, you do eat a lot of olive oil!”,
exclaimed Ancel Keys himself, as he saw the exorbitant amount of olive oil that was used to dress a salad of greens!
More recent studies confirm that the Mediterranean diet, based on olive oil, is ideal for the protection against heart and brain diseases.
More specifically, research conducted by Walter C. Willett suggests that more than 80% of CVD (coronary heart disease), 70% of strokes and 90% of type II diabetes can be prevented by following the traditional Mediterranean diet.
These protective properties are attributed to the composition of this oil specifically, as olive oil is rich in polyphenols, vitamin E and monounsaturated fats, the so called beneficial fats.
Even today, Cretans keep on respecting the tradition and retain this precious oil elixir in a prominent position in their diet, ensuring by this way longevity and well-being.
4. OLIVE OIL AND BEAUTY DURING THE AEGEAN BRONZE AGE
Beauty in ancient Greece seems to have been a subject of great admiration. Countless sculptures depict pleasant appearing forms, carved in detail using the standards of perfection.
In care rituals, once more olive oil holds a prominent place.
Linear A tablets show that Minoans had already developed the art of perfuming olive oil using a variety of herbs. Some of the aromatic plants found in these tablets were cumin, coriander, fennel, pistacia, mint and sesame.
In addition to perfuming the body with various aromatic oils, they also used olive oil for cleaning purposes, as well as for body massage.
The most dominant beauty standard in ancient years included not only beautiful skin, but also a fit body. Especially men, used to spend approximately 6 to 8 hours daily at the gym, followed by the ritual of public baths, which were of particular interest.
More specifically, after washing their bodies with warm water, they used to bath in pure olive oil, derived from specific flasks, called Aryballoi. These flasks have been found in various sizes during excavations and testify to this widespread tactic.
Consequently, the next step in this ancient beauty ritual was body cleansing by means of a special tool called strigil.
The word refers to a kind of scraper that was used to remove impurities from skin surface, captured by the olive oil.
Last but not least, massage was made to athletes’ tired limbs, of course using again olive oil.
In fact, a relevant scene is pictured in Homer’s Iliad, where Odysseus and Diomedes were bathing in olive oil before dinner:
“…they went into polished baths and bathed. But when the twain had bathed and anointed them richly with oil, they sate them down at supper...“
Homer Iliad 10 577
In conclusion, olive oil was a major component in ancient beauty rituals during the Minoan years, a tactic adopted and evolved in later ancient Greek times.
Interest captures the fact that, olive oil rituals were also appreciated by the Romans. A sentence most characteristic is this of Polios, when he was questioned from August about what may be the secret of longevity:
“Very few things”, he said, “almost nothing. Just drink some wine and be smeared with olive oil”...
AURA KRITIS CONTINUES THE TRADITION
The same olive trees, in the shadow of which Minoan civilization was born and marked the beginning of the whole Europe’s later civilization, still share their fruits with Aura Kritis in the recent years.
By preserving the ancient tradition, with respect to the sacred olive tree and appreciation of each and every one of its fruits, Aura Kritis loves to create pure products for a complete natural treatment.
Using Cretan Organic Olive Oil, skin care products are prepared with extra care, enclosing some of the aura of the fertile Cretan soil, as well as the indelible beauty of a great civilization; is thus enclosed some of the Aura of Crete, the so called Aura Kritis.