Ancient Tree in Turkey Is 3,000 Years Old and Was Planted in Roman Burial Site, Scientists Say

An ancient olive tree in Turkey has been found to be 3,000 years old. Researchers also say the tree—named "Ata Ağaç" ("Elder Tree" in English)—was planted at what was once a Roman burial site.

The tree is located in an olive garden in the Muğla's Milas district, western Turkey. It has a 41 foot circumference—about the same size as the world's oldest known olive tree, the Ano Vouves, which is found in Crete, Greece. Ano Vouves is thought to be at least 3,000 years old and potentially up to 4,000 years old.

In a statement posted to Facebook, ATA Agac—which runs the olive garden where the tree is found—said dating the oldest olive trees is difficult because they are "mostly empty inside."

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"In some trees, Carbon 14 is taken from the body of the tree with the core for the test," the statement said, according to a translation. "If no sampling is made from the first ring formed in the middle of the tree trunk, the Carbon 14 test will not give the real result. In summary, this test is not suitable for age determination of olive trees."

Instead, the team from Ankara University used luminescence dating by taking soil samples from the tree's roots. According to the USGS, this method of dating measures the energy of photons released by a given object. Radiation that has been absorbed and stored can be released with light simulation, and from this scientists can work out when the object was last exposed to sunlight. The longer something has not been exposed to sunlight, the stronger the luminescence signal. However, once exposed to sunlight, the signal is removed, resetting this "clock," the USGS explains.

Professor Niyazi Meriç who led the research, told the Daily Sabah: We needed to pinpoint the time when the soil last [saw] the light of day. We collected samples from seven different parts of the roots. We have managed to find that the tree was planted 3,000 years ago." He added that the findings will be published in an "international science magazine."

The newspaper added that the Ata Ağaç tree still produces fruit and the olives collected are used to produce olive oil. ATA Agac said there are many ancient olive trees in Turkey and it is now preparing to launch a project to recognize their importance.

The Ano Vouves tree in Greece was declared a national monument in 1997.

old olive tree
Representative image of an old olive tree. Researchers in Turkey say a tree in the Muğla's Milas district is 3,000 years old. iStock