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This reconstruction of the earliest known olive oil factory demonstrates a simple yet ingenious process to extract olive oil from olives using pulleys, levers, and gravity decanting. This was much more effective than using mortar and pestle to make olive oil, typically used for small scale production. Dating back to the 6th century BC, this factory was located in the Ionian city of Clazomenae, on what is now the coast of western Turkey. This photo shows the press used to squeeze the olive oil out from burlap sacks filled with a paste of ground up olives.The olives were brought to the factory in a large woven basket on a cart:

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and dumped into a pit where two large stone wheels, turned by hand, crushed the olives into a paste:

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which was then loaded into burlap bags for oil extraction using a mechanical press utilizing a large stone block and long timbers to generate enough compression to squeeze the oil out of the olive paste. The stone block and timbers were lifted with a ratcheting pulley system so that the burlap bags could be loaded into the press.

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The oil would run down a trough into a pit where impurities and water were separated by gravity.

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Modern production techniques use many of the same principles, and some of the same technologies.

Kipp Bradford

Kipp Bradford is a technology consultant and entrepreneur with a passion for making things. He is the Senior Design Engineer and Lecturer in Engineering at Brown University, where he teaches several engineering design and entrepreneurship courses. Kipp is also on the Technical Advisory Board for Make Magazine.


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