Oil Presses  in the Holy Land

   This page reviews the process of olive oil production. It lists the Oil presses that are featured in BibleWalks sites.

 

 

 

 

Home > Info > Structures > Oil Presses

 

   This web page describes the process of olive oil production, and summarizes the sites that feature oil presses.

 

 

 

 

 

Contents:

Overview

Structure

* Crushers

* Presses

Sites

Biblical

Etymology

Links

 

 

 

Overview - Oil production:
 

 

  Olive oil is produced by growing olive trees, harvesting the olives (at around September timeframe), crushing them with an oil press, and collecting the golden juice. This process started about 5000 year ago, and its popularity and worth increased ever since.

 

  Olive oil was used as a cooking oil, food, lighting fuel, soap making, religious ceremonies and medicinal use.  Its production was one of the major sources of income in the Holy Land over thousands of years, including modern times when the olive oil is an essential ingredient in the Middle East cuisine.

 

 

 

Ancient olive tree in Hilazon creek

 

   During the Roman and Byzantine periods the number of oil presses was in the thousands; many farmers had their own private installations, and larger public industrial complexes generated huge amount of olive oil. In the area of the Golan heights alone, 109 oil presses were found in 58 ancient sites (ref: Atiqot XXXIV), most of them operated during the Roman and Byzantine period.

 

   The olive oil production process was based on two major steps: The first step requires crushing the olives using a crushing stone, and collecting them into a basket. The second step is done on another installation: the basket is pressed with force, extracting the oil out of the crushed olives and collecting the juice into a storing vat.

 

   There were different types of machines that were used to crush the olives and then press the oil out of the crushed olives. They differed in their size, method of operation, use of human or animal power, infrastructure and capacity. Most of the oil presses had a single crushing stone and basin, and one or two pressing devices.

 

Structure of common olive crushers

 

   These devices were the first process of the olive oil production, where the olives were crushed and placed into a basket.

 

(a)  Rolling stone press ("type 3"):

 

   This oil press used a large rolling stone to crush the olives.  The stone was held upright by an axis, which was connected to a long handle. The handle was pushed by humans or animals. The mashing stone rolled along a cavity  on the circumference of the  base, crushing the olives. The crushed olives would then be collected into a basket and then further processed by the oil press.

 

 

 

 

 Structure of common oil presses

 

  The oil press device was the second step in the olive oil production, where the crushed olives were pressed with force in order to extract their juice.

 

  There are several common types of ancient oil presses, which did not change much after the Hellenistic period. These were classified into several types, which were defined and numbered in Rafael Frankel's doctorate thesis. The most common types are detailed below - #3 (Rolling stone),  #4 (lever based) and #7 (direct pressure screw).

 

 

(a) Lever based press ("type 4"):

 

  A reconstructed oil press, seen below,  was found in a 8th C BC four-roomed house above the palace in Tell Hazor.  This is a typical lever-based oil press which was in use in the Biblical periods. Later the oil press evolved into other types of machines.

 

   In this oil press, a stone weight was tied to the edge of the wooden lever, pushing the lever down. The use of a lever exerts a large force over a small distance. The force of the lever pushed a flat stone down on a basket, which contained the olives. The stone squeezed the basket, extracting the precious olive oil unto the round grooves of a basin stone. The juice flowed down along these grooves, out through an outlet in the basin, and down into a collecting vat. The olive juice contained water and oil. After a few days, the lighter oil in the juice floats above the water, and it is then collected and stored in jars.

 

 

 

(b) Direct-Pressure screw press ("type 7"):

 

  A direct-pressure oil press, seen below,  was found and reconstructed in a 5th-8thC AD church in Kursi.  This is a typical screw-based oil press, using a direct pressure crushing method.  It was widely used in the Golan and Galilee in the Hellenistic and Roman/Byzantine periods.

  In this oil press a vertical screw was fixed inside a wooden frame. The frame was supported by a stone base with holes on each side. The screw was turned around with a short handle, which pushed down a crushing stone upon the basin. The juice flowed out from an outlet into the collecting vat.

 

 

 

Sites with Oil crushers and presses:

 

  The elements of the olive crushers (crushing stones, crushing basins) - and oil presses (press weights, pillars, basins) and other stone parts - are found in great quantities in most of the excavated sites, near the ancient sites and in the fields .

 

   The following table lists the sites of oil presses that are featured in BibleWalks. Click on the site's name to see more information on each site, or on the picture to view it in higher resolution.

 

    Site   Structure description  Type  Period  Photo  
   Mi'ilya

   Inside the ancient Crusader structure is an oil press, where the ancient process is demonstrated. This ancient hall is about 1,000 years old and the oil press is in operation for about 400 years.

 "type #3" - Crushing stone rolled around basin  Ottoman

17th  C

 (in 12thC Crusader fortress)

 
   Zagag, Karmi'el

   A weight of an oil press was found inside the room, behind a Byzantine church. With its weight the stone held down the bottom of a screw, which was turned around to press down a beam. The beam then pushed down over the olives, thus extracting their oil.

"beam and screw"  Byzantine

(5th-7th C AD)

 

 

 
  Kh. Beza

The press is based on a horizontal beam made of wood, which hanged on a pair of vertical pillars. The beam was pushed down, using a set of stone weights, onto a round crushing basin. It pressed baskets with olives, extracting their juice which flowed into a collecting pool.  The oil was then collected into vessels.

 

"type #4.2" - lever and weight  Roman

(1st-2nd C AD)

Kh. Beza - Roman village on south side of Hilazon creek - oil press  
   Kh. Kav, Karmi'el

 An element of an oil press is located in the garden. The large stone was used as weight to push down and press the stone on the basin, in order to extract the juice.

   Byzantine

(5th-7th C AD)

 

 

 
   Kursi

   In the north side of the basilica is a set of oil presses. The photo shows a crushing stone and basin where the olives were placed and crushed.

"type #3" - Crushing stone rolled around basin  Byzantine

(5th-6th C)

 

 

 
   Kursi

   A direct-pressure screw type structure is also located inside the church compound, and was reconstructed.

"type 7":

Direct-pressure screw type

 Byzantine

(5th-6th C)

 

 

 
   Ahihud

  A massive complex for producing oil, one of the largest in Israel, was excavated in the south-eastern side of Moshav Achihud.  Upon the basin of the  mill was a heavy crushing stone that was turned by an animal, crushing the olives.

 Three screw type press beds Byzantine (6th-7th C)  
   Beit Uriya

  On the north-western side of the site, below the houses, are remains of an oil press. Some of its other parts were robbed in the past.

 "beam and screw"    

 

 
  Rosh Zayit

 In one of the reconstructed houses, on the  western side of the site, was an oil production complex. In its central yard was a storage place for olive oil. Around the structure were several oil press installations, each  included a crushing basin, weights and collecting place for the extracted oil.

 Several installations with crushing basin and weights   Israelite

(8th C BC)

 
   Beth Lehem (Galilee)

  After entering the Moshav, you can see on the right side a base of an oil press - a mash olive press type. The olives were placed inside the basin, and a mashing stone was turned around the cavity to press the olives.

"type #3" - Crushing stone rolled around basin  Roman/Byzantine

(2nd-7th C AD)

 
   

Avdon

   A press-bed of an oil press was found on the eastern slope of the ancient Tell. The olives were placed on the basin's surface, and crushed by a stone (1.6M diameter,  which is located nearby). Then the extracted oil collected into the grooves, flowed through the outlet on the left side into a collecting jar.

type 4.2.2 Byzantine period  
   Beit Shearim

   Adjacent to the city gate are the remains of an oil press.   In the base of the oil press the olives were placed in bags on top of the base, and a heavy stone pressed from above,  squashing out the oil extract through the small groove on the right side, and flowed into a jar.

 Direct-pressure screw type    
   Tell Achziv

 The oil press stone was relocated to the beach.

 "type #3" - Crushing stone rolled around basin    

 

 
   Hazor

A reconstructed oil press, seen below,  was found in a 8th C BC four-roomed house above the palace. The stone weight on the edge of the lever pushed the stone on the basket and squeezed the olives, extracting the precious olive oil unto the grooves of the base stone.

 "Type 4":

Lever & weight

Israelite

(8th C BC)

 
  Kh. Oren

 Base of a crushing stone located in a stone quarry near Khirbet Oren.

 "Type #3" -  base of a crushing stone    

 

 
   Capernaum

 Several oil press installations are on display in the excavations. The photo on the right  are elements of an oil press, with a clear view of the collecting vat.

 "Type 4.2"  Roman/Byzantine  

 

 
  Gamla

(Area B)

 This oil press, dated to the 1st C BC, is based on a lever based press design. A total of 6 weights were found here.

 "Type 4"  Hellenistic/

Hasmonean

 

 

Gamla B

 

 
   Gamla

 (Area R)

  A large oil press under a double arched room, with a crushing stone & basin and two oil press installations, and a Mikveh.

 "Type 4.2.3"     Early Roman Gamla western side  
 Tabcha

 A display of oil presses in front of the Church of the first Feeding of the Multitude.

     

 

   Ein-Dor

   The press is based on a horizontal beam made of wood, which hanged on a pair of vertical pillars. The beam was pushed down, using a set of stone weights, onto a round crushing basin. It pressed baskets with olives, extracting their juice which flowed into a collecting pool.  The oil was then collected into vessels.

 "Type 4.2" - lever and weight  Byzantine  
   Inn of Good Samaritan

 A collection of oil presses, collected from different excavations in the West Bank and Gaza.

     
   Beit Jamal     A display of old and ancient oil presses in the courtyard of the Beit Jamal monastery.    Modern,

Byzantine

 
  Anim

 A group of olive oil crusher basins, hewn into the rock

"type #3" - Crushing stone rolled around basin Byzantine  
   Gerizim

 The well preserved oil press is located inside a Hellenistic period Mansion, west of the Samaritan's holy precinct of Mt Gerizim. It includes a crusher, presser and store rooms.

 "type #3" - Crushing stone rolled around basin

 

"type #4.2" - lever and weight

 Hellenistic  

 

 

 

  More sites will be added...

 

Biblical references:

 

To be added later

 

 

 


Etymology (behind the name):

 

  • Shemen - Oil in Hebrew.

 

 

Links:

 

                                         [ISSN 0792-8424]   survey of oil presses in the Golan (Chaim Ben david, pp1-62)

                                          [ISBN 1850755191 1998] Frankel, Rafael.

                                          [ISBN 09177526066 1994] Frankel, Avitson, Ayalon.

 

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