Humans and honeybees go way back – almost 8,500 years

A new study reveals that the relationship between humans and honeybees is much older than previously thought.

Honeybees provide some of the most essential services on the planet; not only do they produce edible honey and useful wax, but they serve as some of the world’s most important pollinators. According to a report from the Washington Post, a new study reveals that the relationship between humans and honeybees actually goes back much further than expected – nearly 8,500 years. As it turns out, the Neolithic era was probably far more agriculturally advanced than once believed.

A large group of scientists led by researchers from Bristol University has examined prehistoric pottery evidence over the past twenty years in an effort to determine when humans first linked up with honeybees. Honeybees are largely considered domesticated in modern times, but existed in the wild long before humans figured out how useful they were.

The study, published this week in the journal Nature, found that the relationship between people and honeybees goes all the way back to the beginning of the Neolithic era, which was roughly 8,000 years ago. Pottery discovered in Europe, The Middle East, and North Africa revealed that people were using bees’ wax, and likely their honey as well.

The study, led by archaeological chemist Melanie Roffet-Salque and biogeochemistry professor Richard Evershed, focused on finding other materials in old pots. Over the course of 20 years, the researchers realized that they had found beeswax in so many of their samples that they could take a stab and determining when humans actually first began to use it.

“Sometimes in papers we would report one single evidence for beeswax in a site, which is fine- but then we though it would be fine to collate everything together and just write a paper,” said Roffet-Salque.

Beeswax was present in pottery found in Europe, Asia Minor, and a small section of North Africa. It was present in the Balkan Peninsula, regions of Central and Western Europe, and what is currently known as Algeria.

A press release from the University of Bristol outlining the details of the recent study can be found here.

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