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Ancient Cypriots fed olive oil to furnaces
2006-03-08 08:16:10

PYRGOS, Cyprus, March 9 (Reuters) - It is praised for its culinary and health properties by any cook worth his salt, but long before olive oil made it into the Mediterranean diet Cypriots used it as fuel to melt copper, archaeologists say.

Italian researchers have discovered that environmentally friendly olive oil was used in furnaces at a site in southern Cyprus up to 4,000 years ago, instead of the fume-belching charcoal used in industry for hundreds of years since.

Described as "liquid gold" by the ancient Greek poet Homer, olive oil has long been associated with grooming, pampering and the religious rites of the ancients, but not - at least in the Mediterranean - with heavy industry.

"We know that olive oil made it into our food around 1,000 BC, but it is the first time we have laboratory evidence that it was used in smelting as a fuel," archaeologist Maria Rosaria Belgiorno told Reuters. Cyprus was famed in antiquity for its copper and is believed to have given its name to the Latin term for the metal, Cuprum.

The find by Belgiorno's team suggested mankind might be returning to its roots, at least in terms of energy.

"It is the first time this has been discovered ... and in Europe it's only recently that industry has turned to biofuels. This oil burns like benzene," Belgiorno said. Today's Cypriots might, however, think twice about pumping this precious commodity into their petrol tanks instead of drizzling it over their meals.

Average annual production of about 13,500 tonnes just about meets local demand and olive oil now sells for around $6 per litre, compared to around 55 cents for regular fuel.

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