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Charred olive stones: experimental and archaeological evidence for recognizing olive processing residues used as fuel

TitleCharred olive stones: experimental and archaeological evidence for recognizing olive processing residues used as fuel
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsBraadbaart, F, Marinova, E, Sarpaki, A
JournalVegetation History and Archaeobotany
AbstractAfter extracting oil from olives a residue is left usually referred to as the olive oil processing residue (OPR). This study explores the way in which ancient societies may have used OPR as fuel for fires to generate heat and the various issues that are related to the residues of this fuel. After drying, the high heating value and structure of OPR makes it an excellent and efficient fuel. Upgrading OPR further, through thermal conversion or charring, provides an even more efficient fuel (COPR), with a hotter and smoke free flame, a higher heating value and which is lighter in mass and thus easier to transport. After a fire is extinguished two types of remains of the fuel are left i.e. char and ash. Analyses on both remains, recovered from archaeological deposits, could be used as a source of information on fuel utilization. Laboratory experiments on charred modern OPR and stones show that by measuring their reflectance and analyzing their structure under reflected light microscopy, OPR and COPR can be distinguished in the charred material recovered from three archaeological sites in Greece and Syria. Based on these investigations it is suggested that on the three sites COPR was used as fuel. Ash, sampled together with the char, provides the possibility of investigating if other types of fuel were used, apart from OPR or COPR. On the investigated sites no ash was collected, but the analysis of the modern OPR showed that the properties of its ash could be used to distinguish it from other types of fuel. Ash from modern OPR and olive stones showed the presence of phytoliths. The often discussed issue related to the sharpness and smoothness of the edges of charred fragmented olive stones was investigated. The results showed that this is not a reliable criterion for recognizing olive oil production. It is recommended that in addition to the identification of the botanical material more properties of the remains of fuels should be analysed. To prevent destroying and losing char and ash as a result of excavation activities such as flotation and sieving, special measures have to be taken. The results show that analysing char and ash may provide valuable information on the (pyro)technology practised in ancient societies.
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