Origins of the Olive Tree Revealed
Jean Paul Roger
Olives, like the Salonika variety pictured here, were likely first domesticated in the Levant around 6,000 years ago, new research suggests.
Jan. 19, 2012
-- Millions of spiders in Madagascar gave up their brilliant gold silk to textile artist Simon Peers and designer Nicholas Godley. Together the two have crafted some of the world's largest textiles made from spider silk. These delicately woven pieces are going on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London this month. One piece, a cape that almost seems to glow, required silk from 1.2 million female golden orb spiders and took years to create. Here are images from the upcoming collection as well as the weaving process. It all takes the patience of a spider.
A cape made by Simon Peers and Nicholas Godley from the silk of 1.2 million female golden orb spiders.
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John Brown, from the collection of Simon Peer
A textile made from golden orb spider silk on a loom. To get the silk, about 80 people set out early in the morning looking for the spiders, collect them in boxes, and then bring them to a spidery, the BBC reported.
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Simon Peers Collection
This print that shows a method for silk collection from golden orb spiders.
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John Brown, from the collection of Simon Peer
Spider silk being woven into an intricate textile.
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Detail of a golden spider silk hand-woven brocaded textile.
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A yellow woven spider silk cape by Simon Peers and Nicholas Godley at Peers Workshop in Antananarivo, Madagascar.
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The olive was first domesticated in the Eastern Mediterranean between 8,000 and 6,000 years ago, according to new research.
The findings, published today (Feb. 5) in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, are based on the genetic analysis of nearly 1,900 samples from around the Mediterranean Sea. The study reveals that domesticated olives, which are larger and juicier than wild varieties, were probably first cultivated from wild olive trees at the frontier between Turkey and Syria.
"We can say there were probably several steps, and it probably starts in the Levant," or the area that today includes Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, said study co-author Gillaume Besnard, an archaeobotanist at the National Center for Scientific Research in France. "People selected new cultivars everywhere, but that was a secondary diversification later."
From biblical times, the olive tree has served as a symbol of sacredness, peace and unity. Archaeologists have unearthed olive pits at sites dating to about 8,000 years old. And dating as far back as 6,000 years ago, archaeologists find evidence of olive oil production in Carmel, Israel, Besnard said.
Yet exactly where the olive was first cultivated has been hotly debated. (History's Most Overlooked Mysteries)
To unravel the history of the olive tree, the team took 1,263 wild and 534 cultivated olive tree samples from throughout the Mediterranean and analyzed genetic material from the trees' chloroplasts, the green plant structures where photosynthesis takes place. Because chloroplast DNA is passed from one tree to the descendant trees that spring up around it, the DNA can reveal local changes in plant lineages, he said.
The researchers then reconstructed a genetic tree to show how the plant dispersed. The team found that the thin, small and bitter wild fruit first gave way to oil-rich, larger olives on the border between Turkey and Syria.
After that first cultivation, modern-day domesticated olives came mostly from three hotspots: the Near East (including Cyprus), the Aegean Sea and the Strait of Gibraltar. They were then gradually spread throughout the Mediterranean with the rise of civilization.
But to get a true sense of how the olive tree emerged, the researchers shouldn't just look at chloroplast DNA, said André Bervillé, a geneticist at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, who was not involved in the study. Nuclear DNA, which is carried in the pollen, should also be analyzed, Bervillé told LiveScience.
"Pollen from the olive tree is wind-transported, so it can migrate long distances" he said.
Combining both types of DNA would allow researchers to understand both how local olive tree cultivation occurred and how more long-distance changes occurred, he said.
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