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Durham University

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Deckers, Katleen, Riehl, Simone, Tumolo, Valentina, Genz, Hermann & Lawrence, Dan (2021). Intensive olive production at Levantine sites. New data from Fadous-Kfarabida and Khirbet-ez Zeraqon. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 36: 102841.

Author(s) from Durham


During the third millennium BCE, the Levant experienced an increase in social complexity, visible in the emergence of urban forms and centralised institutions. Specialised agricultural production, particularly of olives, has long been considered a key factor in this transformation. This paper uses charcoal and seed analysis of remains from the Early Bronze Age II-III sites of Tell Fadous-Kfarabida in Lebanon and Khirbet-ez Zeraqon in Jordan, alongside a comparative analysis of published data, to investigate this phenomenon. Olive was an important crop at both sites but Khirbet-ez Zeraqon is situated within a more arid inland location, away from the natural distribution of wild olive, whereas Tell Fadous-Kfarabida had a much lusher vegetation, and was within the distribution of wild olive. While important, olive was possibly not the major crop in terms of macro-nutrient supply in Khirbet-ez Zeraqon but it played a more dominant role in Fadous-Kfarabida. The measurements of the olive stones from both sites show a high variance compared to other sites. At Khirbet-ez Zeraqon this may have been due to specialization by using several cultivars and/or applying irrigation and/or fluctuations in rainfall. At Fadous-Kfarabida morphological wild olives were possibly included in the production as well, which may relate to the development of new olive strains and a likely higher engagement in experimentation. Although an overall linear trend of increasing mean olive stone length, occasionally described as “domestication syndrome”, can be detected for the southern Levant between 7 and 2 kyr BP, the Early Bronze Age measurement data from Fadous-Kfarabida and Khirbet-ez Zeraqon are outside the confidence band of the regression line and indicate that higher variability in some sites can blur a straightforward recognition of the “domestication syndrome”. There seem to have been varied local practices in cultivation and domestication in the Early Bronze Age Levant.