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1,200-year-old soap factory unearthed in Israel


Israel’s most ancient soap making workshop (soapery) was discovered in an excavation site by the Israel Antiquities Authority and youth, in the southern city of Rahat. The olive-oil soap making workshop has been exposed inside a wealthy home of the Islamic period (approximately 1300 years ago), in the Bedouin city of Rahat.

1,200-year-old soap factory unearthed in Israel
Excavations at this site in Israel's Negev Desert yielded evidence of olive oil soap manufacturing
dating back roughly 1,200 years [Credit: Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority]
The production of olive oil soap is mentioned in writings since the 10th century CE and it has been a significant industry from the Middle Ages and until the early 20th century. During the soap-making process, olive oil was used as the base material, added with ashes produced by burning salsola soda (saltwort) plants, which contain potash and water.



The mixture was cooked for about seven days, after which the liquid material was transferred to a shallow pool, where the soap hardened for about ten days, until it could be cut into bars. These were piled for additional drying, and the final product was ready after an additional period of two months. The site at Rahat displays facilities associated with this industry. The Antiquities Authority’s researchers obtained samples from the finds, to identify the materials used within the production process.

1,200-year-old soap factory unearthed in Israel
An ancient game board found at the Rahat site [Credit: Emil Aladjem/
Israel Antiquities Authority]
According to Dr. Ilana Kogen Zehavi, the excavation manager on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, “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. We are familiar with important soap-making centers from a much later period – the Ottoman period. These were discovered in Jerusalem, Nablus, Jaffa, and Gaza.”



Over the last six months, hundreds of youth and adults have been employed at the large archaeological excavation site managed by the Israel Antiquities Authority, including participants from among the local Bedouin residents, university students and students in pre-military preparatory programs. The excavation is supervised by Dr. Ilana Kogen-Zehavi, with the help of Dr. Yael Abadi-Rice and Avinoam Lehavi. The purpose was to re-establish the connection between the community and its own local history. The excavations were carried out in light of new neighborhood developments in Rahat, initiated by the Authority for Development and Settlement of the Bedouin in the Negev.

Source: Israel Antiquities Authority [August 20, 2020]

TANN

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