Bees have been around humans for over 8,000 years according to study recently published in the Nature journal.
For as long as farming has been around, human communities dating back to the Stone Age have been using bee products. Perhaps to satisfy a sweet tooth or for the multiple applications of beeswax, bees have been around humans for over 8,000 years.
The study has been conducted by an UK-based research team, led by Mélanie Roffet-Salque who is a postdoctoral researcher with the University of Bristol, UK. Looking at ancient pottery shards, Roffet-Salque and her team tried to find traces of bee products and understand how far back the relationship goes.
While the findings can’t exactly pinpoint whether Neolithic people were fans of honey or used both honey and beeswax, the researchers do point out that ancient farmers across Europe have been exploiting bee products since farming was introduced.
Thousands of pottery shards have been put under the microscope. 6,400 fragments have been analyzed in the laboratory to find traces of chemical components reminiscent of cosmetics, food or others. Of the thousands of pottery shards, a few have been found to bear the chemical mark of beeswax. Honey couldn’t be detected as it degrades much faster than beeswax. Nonetheless, the few dozens pottery fragments thus marked are a clear indication of honeybees being recognized for their potential from the earliest of times.
The oldest of the fragments found to bear the traces of beeswax came from Anatolia, Turkey. Dated to the 7th millennium B.C., the shard stands as a vivid memory of Stone Age communities using this bee product for fuel, cosmetics or cooking, while possibly also enjoying the sweet honey.
Subsequent sets of pottery shards found in Europe and Eurasia suggest that bee products followed a spreading pattern in line with the spreading of farming. As soon as a community was introduced to this practice, beeswax is also found on its pottery. According to the researchers, the pattern follows a Near East, north and west line, reaching the ancient territory of the UK around 3500 B.C.
The pottery of communities in the Balkan Peninsula showing traces of beeswax were dated anywhere in between 5500 B.C. to 1,000 years later. In Greece, beeswax started being prevalent according to the findings of this study around 5800 B.C. Fragments collected from the UK only yielded seven specifically marked with the chemical compounds. The most northern point were pottery was found to bear traces of beeswax was Denmark.
The incursion in the history of bees being useful to human communities as far as the Stone Age stops at 57 degrees latitude. Above this point no traces of beeswax have been found, despite assiduous efforts spanning over 1,000 pottery fragments.
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