Fossil evidence indicates the olive tree had its origins 20–40 million years ago in the Oligocene, in what is now corresponding to Italy and the eastern Mediterranean Basin. Wild oleasters were present and collected in the East Mediterranean since ~19,000 BP. The genome of cultivated olives reflects their origin from oleaster populations in the East Mediterranean. The olive plant was first cultivated some 7,000 years ago in Mediterranean regions.
The edible olive seems to have coexisted with humans for about 5,000 to 6,000 years, going back to the early Bronze Age (3150 to 1200 BC). Its origin can be traced to the Levant based on written tablets, olive pits, and wood fragments found in ancient tombs.
The immediate ancestry of the cultivated olive is unknown. Fossil Olea pollen has been found in Macedonia and other places around the Mediterranean, indicating that this genus is an original element of the Mediterranean flora. Fossilized leaves of Olea were found in the palaeosols of the volcanic Greek island of Santorini (Thera) and were dated about 37,000 BP. Imprints of larvae of olive whitefly Aleurolobus (Aleurodes) olivinus were found on the leaves. The same insect is commonly found today on olive leaves, showing that the plant-animal co-evolutionary relations have not changed since that time. Other leaves found on the same island are dated back to 60,000 BP, making them the oldest known olives from the Mediterranean.