Stone Age Pottery Reveals Signs of Beekeeping
You have bees to thank every time you drizzle some honey into your tea. And the human-honeybee relationship is long-standing. Iconography of honeybees adorns 4400-year-old walls in ancient Egypt. Rock art has been found that depicts a stone age bee harvest. But exactly when early farmers began to exploit bees has been unclear.
Those farmers exploited bees for more than honey. Research has shown that they also employed the beeswax for cosmetics, fuel, medicine, and to perform rituals.
Beeswax contains complex fats that leave a recognizable residue on pottery and other archaeological artifacts. And scientists have now used that beeswax residue to analyze what they’ve determined to be the earliest known human-and-bee association, dating back some 9,000 years.
The researchers surveyed Europe, the Near East and northern Africa. They found beeswax on pottery vessels from Neolithic farming sites in Anatolia, in or near modern-day Turkey. They also discovered the first evidence of beeswax at Neolithic sites in Northern Africa. And the lack of wax residues in Ireland, Scotland and the Scandanavian peninsula led them to conclude that those locations were above what must have been a northern limit for honeybees. The study is in the journal Nature.
The researchers say that the beeswax residues at these human-occupied sites may be clues pointing to the very beginnings of bee domestication. With thousands of years of sweet results for us all.