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The first use of olives in Africa around 100,000 years ago

Abstract

The olive tree was an iconic plant for most of the past Mediterranean civilizations, for which it had important economic value. Here we report the earliest use of fruits and wood from olive trees in Africa so far, around 100,000 years ago. These findings suggest the presence of olive trees on the Atlantic coast of Morocco during most of the last glacial period, and the use of olives by the early Homo sapiens for fuel management and most probably for consumption.

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Fig. 1: Location of the archaeological sites in Morocco and suitable areas for wild olive tree growth during the last full glacial cycle in the Mediterranean.
Fig. 2: Morphological characteristics of a modern (wild) olive stone and of fragments of a charred olive stone (sample E12-DYJSQ) found in the Aterian MSA level 7 at El Mnasra.

Data availability

All data used in the main text and Supplementary Information are available in Supplementary Data 1. The material is housed at the Department of Botany of the University of Innsbruck, Austria. The Olea pollen data from three marine sedimentary cores (Supplementary Text 14) are available via PANGAEA at https://doi.org/10.1594/PANGAEA.55037 (A4-M15627-3), https://doi.org/10.1594/PANGAEA.55039 (A3-M16004-1) and https://doi.org/10.1594/PANGAEA.55038 (A2-M15669-1).

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Acknowledgements

We thank S. Nomade and M. Thinon for their help with dating and charcoal identification, respectively. El Harhoura 2 and El Mnasra caves were excavated with the support of the Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine (Rabat, Morocco) and the Ministry of Culture (Morocco). We are grateful to A. Bouzouggar for his help in 2017 during the sampling and all the scientific members of the Moroccan–French project El Harhoura-Témara. Eslem Ben Arous is the beneficiary of Postdoctoral grant from the Fyssen Foundation.

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Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

Project conceptualization was initiated by L.M. and T.O. Identification of plant macro-remains was performed by T.O. Sampling was carried out by L.M., E.B.A, E.C. and R.N. Dating and faunal data were compiled by E.B.A., E.S., E.C. and C.F. Samples for dating were prepared by E.B.A., A.Z. and O.T. Excavations were led by R.N. and M.A.E.H. SEM images were taken and interpreted by A.S., W.K., L.M. and T.O. All authors have contributed to the writing of the manuscript and approved the final version.

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Correspondence to L. Marquer.

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Nature Plants thanks the anonymous reviewers for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Archaeological sites El Mnasra and El Harhoura 2.

Archaeological sites (a) El Mnasra and (b) El Harhoura 2. (A1) and (B1) show the cave entrances and (A2) and (B2) the central excavations.

Extended Data Table 1 Plant macro-remains found at the El Mnasra and El Harhoura 2 sites. Numbers of identified fragments of seeds and charcoal found in the archaeological levels Aterian MSA (Aterian Middle Stone Age). See Supplementary Texts 2, 3 and 11 for dating details. UK.: unknown. U.: unidentified. Dicot.: only dicotyledonous anatomical characters are visible. US: Stratigraphic Unit

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary text, Figs. 1–9, Tables 1–4 and refs. 30–138.

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Supplementary Data 1

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Marquer, L., Otto, T., Arous, E.B. et al. The first use of olives in Africa around 100,000 years ago. Nat. Plants 8, 204–208 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41477-022-01109-x

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