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1,200 years old olive oil soap factory

Israel: Archaeologists found remains of an ancient soap factory most likely belonging to a wealthy family.

Ruins of the soap factory in Rahat. Photo: Xinhua.

A team of archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Agency discovered the first soap-making factory in the country dating back 1,200 years in the city of Rahat while working in the Negev desert. Soap made from olive oil is evidence of Muslim influence in the region, according to the mayor of Rahat Fahiz Abu Saheeben.

Olive oil soap appeared during the Abbasid dynasty, archaeologist Elena Kogen-Zehavi said. Soap was a valuable export, brought to Egypt and many other Arab lands. The main ingredient for soap making is olive oil due to its high-fat content.

Soap factory was discovered in a large building with pillars. The research team speculates this work belongs to a wealthy family making a living by making and selling soap. The harsh desert conditions including wind and dust storm made personal hygiene necessary 1,200 years ago.

For millennia, the inhabitants of the Middle East have used olive oil for sanitation. The ancient people here anointed olive oil to exfoliate the skin. Industrial soap production only really started in the Middle Ages in Europe. While the Christians use lard, olive oil is more difficult to cast. The secret of producing olive oil soap is carefully preserved today and passed from generation to generation, according to Kogen-Zehavi.

The Rahat complex included all the facilities needed to make olive oil soap. The team collected organic specimens that allowed them to identify the materials used in the manufacturing process. They found that this particular soap consisted of olive oil mixed with the ash from the fenugreek, containing potassium carbonate and water. The mixture is cooked for about 7 days. The liquid material is then poured into a shallow pond, where the soap hardens after about 10 days until it can be cut into a cake shape. Next, the workers will dry the soap cake for another two months.

(According to Times of Israel)

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