Home Front Page Un-bee-lievable! Honeybees have spread sweetness since Stone Age

Un-bee-lievable! Honeybees have spread sweetness since Stone Age

Relationship between human beings and honeybees date back to several thousands of years, according to researchers from University of Bristol. They stated this after analyzing beeswax residue on fragments of ancient cooking pots from archeological sites across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

Delving into the origin of honeybees further, researchers from Uppsala University through their first global analysis of genome variation in honeybees, had stated that the species most probably originates from Asia, and not from Africa as previously thought. Mathew Webster from the university had added that populations in Europe seems to have contracted during ice ages whereas African populations expanded at those times. This pointed towards favorable conditions for honeybees.

Professor Francis Ratnieks, a leading authority on honeybee biology, stated that honeybees are the gateway to biology. These little creatures can answer a huge range of important questions in biology, from agriculture to genetics and much more.

Their findings were published Wednesday in the journal Nature. This has been concluded with the help of 20 years of research and thousands of prehistoric pottery samples.

Extensive beekeeping in Lower Egypt has led to researchers spotting a structure that is expected to date back to the 7th century B.C. The practice of gathering honey from wild bee colonies seems even older. Some evidence recorded in a rock painting from around 6,000 B.C. in Valencia, Spain, states that human beings collected honey, bees wax and venom several thousands of years ago. According to a study published today in the journal Nature​, these were mere expectations and it was not clear how common and widespread this practice was.

This study has collected evidence for the presence of beeswax in the pottery vessels belonging to first European farmers by investigating chemical components trapped in the clay fabric of over 6,000 potsherds belonging to about 150 Old World archaeological sites.

Lead author Mélanie Roffet-Salque told Chelsea Harvey for The Washington Post, that honeybees have not surfaced significantly throughout the archaeological record due to their tiny size. Beeswax is not only a wax, it is rich in lipids and organic molecules, which gives a unique chemical fingerprint to beeswax that can endure the depredation caused by time.

Over 6,400 pottery pieces that had traces of beeswax and were used by early farmers were analysed by researchers. ​It was expected that these containers were put to use for extracting honey from plundered honeycomb or the wax that could have been useful as fuel for lamps. Another thought is that these containers might have been used as artificial beehives, to keep the industrious insects and their sugary concoction in close vicinity.

The paper states that a Stone Age site in southeastern Turkey called Çayönü Tepesi contained well-preserved beeswax residue dating back to 7,000 B.C.

The team also found that people in the Balkans used honeybee products dating from 5,500 B.C. to 4,500 B.C. and 5,000 B.C. in North Africa. Even Denmark was found with wax residues.

Roffet-Salque told Stephanie Pappas for Live Science that honeybees could not make it to greater latitudes due to the climate creating an ecological limit for honeybees in prehistory. The relationship between honeybees and people became profound with some domestication.