'Tree of life' has Kurdish roots, study finds

Feb 06, 2013
A Palestinian woman from Qaryut village harvests her olive tree located in West Bank on October 28, 2009. Seen by some as emblematic of the Mediterranean landscape and cuisine, the olive tree in fact has its domesticated roots in Kurdish regions, said a study Wednesday that seeks to settle an age-old debate.

Seen by some as emblematic of the Mediterranean landscape and cuisine, the olive tree in fact has its domesticated roots in Kurdish regions, said a study Wednesday that seeks to settle an age-old debate.

Harvesting of wild olive trees called oleasters has been documented from the Near East (the area around ancient Palestine and Jordan) to Spain since the Neolithic or New Stone Age that started about 10,000 BC.

The tree then became domesticated, a process thought by some researchers to have started in the Near East about 6,000 years ago.

Other experts, though, have offered evidence for simultaneous domestication of different olive cultivars across the Mediterranean.

Now an international team of experts used genetic data, molecular dating, and climate modelling to determine that the iconic tree's roots lie in only one place—somewhat further north and east than many had thought.

"We conclude that the western Mediterranean was not a major primary centre of domestication of the ," the team wrote in the journal : Biological Sciences.

"The cradle of primary domestication of the olive tree is located in the northeastern Levant."

Libyan men pick olives in a grove in the town of Zliten, 160 kms east of the capital Tripoli, on November 11, 2011. Seen by some as emblematic of the Mediterranean landscape and cuisine, the olive tree in fact has its domesticated roots in Kurdish regions, said a study Wednesday that seeks to settle an age-old debate.

This refers to the modern-day Kurdish zone between Syria and Turkey, study co-author Guillaume Besnard of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) told AFP.

From there, the domesticated olive probably spread through the eastern Mediterranean and Cyprus, westwards to Turkey, Greece, Italy and the rest of the Mediterranean "in parallel to the expansion of civilisations and human exchanges in this part of the world", said the report.

The domesticated olive tree, Olea europaea, is central to Greek, Roman and early Christian mythology, and the olive branch remains a symbol of peace today.

The believed that Athena, goddess of war and wisdom, presented the Athenians with their first domesticated olive tree, from which all others sprouted.

"The importance of the cultivated olive tree in people's lives has turned this species into a symbol of ancient, sacred literature, and the origins of this crop are often subject to controversies," the paper said.

"According to our study, the maternal origin of the majority (about 90 percent) of cultivated olives today is clearly the Near East," or roughly the modern-day Middle East, added Besnard.

"I don't think anybody will dispute that any more."

For the study, the team sampled DNA data from 534 cultivated olive types and 1,263 oleasters from 108 locations, as well as 49 trees from a sub-Saharan subspecies.

The researchers also concluded that three main branches of wild olive split from a common ancestor at least 1.5 million years ago, said Besnard.

The olive tree has been called "the tree of life" for the sustenance it provides and its non-food uses, ranging from soap to oil for lighting and sculpture.

The olive today yields some 2.4 million tonnes of oil in Europe alone, with Spain the top producer.

It is farmed as far afield as southern Africa, Australia, Japan and China.

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Mandan
not rated yet Feb 06, 2013
Reference to the Kurds is something of a red herring here. As an Indo-European people, the ancestors of the Kurds would have arrived in the region from the north no earlier than 3,000 years BCE and most probably around 2,000 years BCE.

The Kurds and the Medo-Persians in general are a great and historied people, but they did not play a role in the initial domestication of olives-- they were nowhere near the region at the time. Modern demographics should not be forced onto ancient historical contexts without explanation, and I think the wording of this article could lead to some confusion.
baudrunner
not rated yet Feb 06, 2013
I think the wording of this article could lead to some confusion.
I think the wording of your answer could lead to some confusion.

The only mention of Kurdistan concerns information pertaining to the geographical location of the earliest evidence that we appear to have of the existence of the wild olive.

And actually, since the myths of old tend to revere the olive, it is likely that they were introduced to this world by the Anunnaki, from Nibiru, who account for the unusually rapid development of civilization starting about 450,000 years ago, lacking any other explanation for this phenomenon and having plenty of evidence of that on hand to present to the skeptically inclined. That would explain why the olive is thought to come from an area only just north and west of that cradle of civilization.
robert_a
not rated yet Feb 06, 2013
@Mandan

You have to be an Arab, or Turk, or Persian because whenever the word "Kurd" or "Kurdish" or "Kurdistan" appears somewhere they start attacking it.

Nobody knows how long the Kurds have been living in the area they live in today, but there is one thing that is certain: Kurds did not "arrive" in the area or move from somewhere else to that area, they have been there since they existed.

Smart Steff
not rated yet Feb 08, 2013
Wrong, debunked. Olive tree originated in Greece ( Greece and Italy was once together - look at the geography ). 40 million years ago the earthquake pushed Italy away from Greece. They found in Greece olive leaf and dated 60.000 years ago and in Italy, the olive tree was found fossilized near Livorno and dated 20 million years ago. Olive tree originated in Near East is not true. It's originated Greece/Italy.