Stone Age Farmers Exploited Beehives

New research suggests the relationship between humans and bee goes back some 8,500 years. Photo: UPI/Ismael Mohamad |

BRISTOL, England, Nov. 11 (UPI) — The allure of honey has deep historic roots. Scientists recently identified the chemical presence of beeswax at a variety of Stone Age sites in Europe, suggesting early farmers have been exploiting the honeybee and its home for at least 8,500 years.

Researchers at the University of Bristol analyzed the chemical signatures of some 6,000 potsherds from 150 Neolithic archaeological sites. The unique trace of beeswax was found among the artifacts of several sites.

The oldest evidence — cooking pots unearthed from a dig site in Turkey — was dated to the seventh millennium BCE.

Researchers shared their analysis in the journal Nature.

“The most obvious reason for exploiting the honeybee would be for honey, as this would have been a rare sweetener for prehistoric people,” lead study author Melanie Roffet-Salque said in a press release. “However, beeswax could have been used in its own right for various technological, ritual, cosmetic and medicinal purposes, for example, to waterproof porous ceramic vessels.”

The findings failed to turn up evidence of beeswax above the 57th parallel North, suggesting an ecological limit prevented access to bees and their byproducts for the Neolithic farmers of ancient Scotland and Scandinavia.

“The lack of a fossil record of the honeybee means it’s ecologically invisible for most of the past 10,000 years,” said Richard Evershed, study co-author and a professor of Bristol’s School of Chemistry. “Although evidence from ancient Egyptian murals and prehistoric rock art suggests mankind’s association with the honeybee dates back over thousands of years, when and where this association emerged has been unknown — until now.”


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