A 1,200-year-old factory in Israel produced olive oil soap

Hyperaxion Aug 25, 2020

Archaeologists have discovered the old factory in the city of Rahat, along with a pair of ancient board games.

A 1,200-year-old soap factory has been discovered in the city of Rahat, Israel. Archaeologists found the site while they were excavating an old luxurious home ahead of a new construction project.

A 1,200-year-old factory in Israel produced olive oil soap
(Credit: Emil Aladjem / Israel Antiquities Authority).

According to the researchers, the family who lived there probably accumulated their wealth by producing and selling olive oil soap.

“This is the first time that a soap workshop as ancient as this has been discovered, allowing us to recreate the traditional production process of the soap industry. For this reason, it is quite unique,” said Dr. Elena Kogen Zehavi, an archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

Archaeologists collected samples of residues to analyze the production process: the mixture was made from olive oil and ashes from salsola soda (also known as saltwort).

“Hounds and Jackals,” or “58 Holes".
“Hounds and Jackals,” or “58 Holes”. (Credit: Emil Aladjem / Israel Antiquities Authority).

It was cooked for about a week and the liquid obtained was transferred to a shallow pool and left to harden for several days, until the soap was ready to be cut into bars, which would then dry for another two months.

The product was essential in an area where people needed to pay extra attention to personal hygiene, due to the heat, sand, and wind.

However, this was not the only discovery at the site. Two board games were also found during the excavation.

The 'Windmill' board game.
The ‘Windmill’ board game. (Credit: Emil Aladjem / Israel Antiquities Authority).

The first, called “Hounds and Jackals” or “Fifty-eight Holes”, was played already in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia 4,000 years ago. The second, known as the “Windmill”, existed in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD and is still played today.

“The excavation has revealed the Islamic roots of Rahat. We are proud of the excavation and happy that it took place in cooperation with the local community. We hope to construct a visitors’ center that tourists and the local community will be able to enjoy,” said Fahiz Abu Saheeben, mayor of Rahat.

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