What are the olive presses referred to in Gregory S. Aldrete's History of the Ancient World A Global Perspective? It mentions olive presses in North Africa that look so much like Stonehenge they were mistaken for religous structures.

Why would a pillar of an olive press need to be 10 feet high?

1 Answer 1


He's probably talking about structures like this one at Senam Semana in Roman Tripolitania:

olive press

You can see the superficial resemblance to the Stonehenge trilithons:

Stonehenge Trilithon

So it is, perhaps, understandable that nineteenth-century travellers in north‐west Libya took them to be prehistoric megaliths and assumed they were of ritual significance.

An extensive study was carried out by H. S Cowper and published as The Hill Of The Graces in 1897. This includes descriptions and photographs of many of these structures.

A possible reconstruction of one of these presses is shown in figure 17 of An Archaeological and Historical Guide to the pre-Islamic Antiquities of Tripolitania by D.E.L. Haynes:

Reconstruction of olive press

He describes the presses thus:

"The olives were placed in a perforated container on a stone slab draining into an adjacent tank. On top of them rested a plunger attached to a long wooden lever, the butt end of which was held down by a wooden bar secured in holes or slots between two massive pillars of stone. The free end of the lever was then drawn down by a windlass or pulley anchored to a heavy block of stone sunk in the ground. The two pillars, which usually constitute the most conspicuous remains of a press, were ten or more feet high, and might be either monolithic or composed of several blocks. They were set close together on a single base and joined across the top by a stone lintel, on which other blocks were often placed to add to the weight..."

The size of the structures is simply a reflection of the scale of production at these presses

The function and operation of the presses is discussed in D.J Mattingley's Megalithic madness and measurement. Or how many olives could an olive press press?, published in the Oxford Journal of Archaeology (Volume 7, Issue 2, July 1988, pp 177-195)

  • sorry what was the need for the Senam Semana to be so high? in your fig 17 wouldn't that make the press harder to use?
    – Hao S
    Mar 26, 2019 at 3:16
  • Presumably, you'd need to raise the lever to fill the container with olives. The height of the structure would make no difference to the difficulty of using the press, provided the lintel didn't obstruct the lever when it was being raised. The structure at Senam Semana shows three positions were available for the pivot at that particular press. If you're interested in more detail, you might want to approach a local library and get hold of a copy of Dr Mattingley's paper. Mar 26, 2019 at 3:23
  • Operation of the press exerts an upward force on the end of the lever. The structure needs to be heavy enough to resist this force, otherwise it would lift the pillars instead of pressing the olives. Feb 19, 2023 at 9:39

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