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by Archaeology Newsroom

The sesame oil press

The sesame plant is very ancient, mentioned by ancient writers as being cultivated in Persia, Egypt, Ethiopia, and in the Indies. Hippocrates, Galenos and Dioskourides used it as medicine. Menandros writes of a pudding made of sesame served at weddings, which was supposed to ensure the couple had many children. The sesame press existed before the industrial age and was used to produce the tasty Lenten halva and the nutricious sesame pulp (tahini). The saponaria plant also known as tsoueni was an indispensable ingredient of halva. An Ottoman register of 1548 records that sesame was cultivated in Lesvos, it was also imported from Asia Minor and from Lemnos.Today there are five halva factories known to us in Lesvos that indicate that there were facilities powered by animals available on the island from the time of the Turkish occupation up to the middle of the 20th century. If one is to understand how the sesame press worked one should take a look at the Roman flour press which was hand or animal powered (molo asinaria). Such mills were found in Pompey and Ostia. Such presses were made of volcanic stone. All sesame presses found on Lesvos are made of the local volcanic stone. The similarities in the construction of the sesame press with the Roman flour press are interesting and should be looked into.