At Mann in Naples experts find oldest olive oil in the world

Academic research on bottle found in Ercolano

09 November, 18:35

    NAPLES - A bottle of olive oil which, due to the high temperatures to which it was exposed during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and changes throughout its nearly 2,000 years, bears the traces of chemical changes typical of edible fats has been discovered by researchers from the University Federico II in Naples and Vanvitelli in Caserta and the National research council (CNR). The bottle was discovered in Pompeii and kept at the archaeological museum Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (Mann).

    The study was carried out by the agriculture department of the University Federico II and Mann on organic findings preserved in the deposits. The bottle appears to come from Ercolano but, like other findings, information on when it was discovered has been lost.

    Paleontologist and TV conductor Alberto Angela during a visit to Mann noticed that the bottle was still half full, prompting the study. Research conducted by a multidisciplinary team, coordinated by Professor Raffaele Sacchi, from the agriculture department, allowed to verify for the first time the authenticity and molecular identity of a sample of olive oil preserved inside the glass bottle which was buried by the Vesuvius eruption in 79 AD.

    Molecular techniques and carbon-14 dating of one of the most representative ''edible articles'' preserved at the Mann museum allowed to analyze the content of the bottle similar to the ones painted on the frescoes found in Pompeii. The substance was probably found in Ercolano during archaeological excavation work started by the Prince d'Elboeuf in 1738 and continued by Carl of Bourbon. In the bottle, very little has survived of the typical molecules of olive oil: triglycerides that represent 98% of oil have divided into constitutive fatty acids; unsaturated fatty acids have completely oxidized generating hydroxy acids which over 2,000 years have reacted, forming condensation products like estolides, which have never been observed before in conventional processes of natural alteration of olive oil.

    Raffaele Sacchi said the finding is ''the most ancient sample of olive oil we have in large quantity, the most ancient bottle of olive oil in the world. The identification of the nature of the 'bottle of archaeological oil' gives us irrefutable proof of the importance of olive oil in the daily food of populations in the Mediterranean area and in particular of ancient Romans in Campania Felix''.

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