• Olea europaeaL.;
  • Mediterranean Basin;
  • morphometrics;
  • domestication;
  • historical biogeography


Aim  This study intends to improve our understanding of historical biogeography of olive domestication in the Mediterranean Basin, particularly in the north-western area.

Location  Investigations were performed simultaneously on olive stones from extant wild populations, extant cultivated varieties from various Mediterranean countries, and archaeological assemblages of Spanish, French and Italian settlements.

Methods  A combination of morphometrics (traditional and geometrical) allowed us to study both the size and shape of endocarp structure. Concerning shape, a size-standardized method coupled with fitted polynomial regression analysis was performed.

Results  We found morphological criteria for discriminating between wild and cultivated olive cultivars, and established patterns of morphological variation of olive material according to the geographical origin (for extant material) and to the age of the olive forms (for archaeological material). Levels of morphological convergences and divergences between wild olive populations and cultivated varieties are presented as evidence.

Main conclusions  Morphological changes of endocarps of olive under domestication at both geographical and chronological scales provide new criteria for the identification of olive cultivars. They allow to determine the origins of cultivated forms created and/or introduced in the north-western Mediterranean regions and to understand how human migrations affected the rest of the Western Mediterranean regions. A model of diffusion of olive cultivation is proposed. It shows evidence of an indigenous origin of the domestication process, which is currently recognized in the north-western area since the Bronze Age.