Humans Have Used Honeybees for 9000 Years

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Humans have been enjoying honey for a lot longer than researchers previously thought. While Egyptian bee iconography and Stone Age cave art indicates that civilizations across the world have savored the tasty bee byproduct for millennia, a new study published in the journal Nature provides evidence that farmers have been exploiting the honeybee since the Neolithic Age.

Researchers at the University of Bristol examined more than 6400 clay pottery vessels recovered from Neolithic archaeological sites in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. They found chemical traces of beeswax that date back nearly 9000 years—about 2000 years earlier than expected, NPR reports. This finding might signify the beginning of the honeybee’s domestication. 

Obviously, honey would have been a delicious snack for Stone Age people. But academics think that beeswax might have also been used in myriad ways—for example, to waterproof vessels, make into cosmetics, or to burn as a light source.

However, not all early people enjoyed the fruits of the bee’s labor. Beeswax wasn’t found in Ireland, Scotland, or northern Scandinavia—indicating that bees might have not been able to thrive in these areas due to the cold climate.

Were our ancient ancestors beekeepers? Researchers don’t know for sure, although LiveScience writes that archaeologists found 3000-year-old clay beehives in Israel in 2010. However, it’s still amazing to consider that the humble honeybee has provided us with sweet sustenance for this long.   

[h/t Popular Archaeology]