Early Humans relied on Hunting wild animals and gathering vegetables and fruits, and in the course of their hunter-gatherer lifestyle they would have come across honey in bees’ nests high in the trees.
So, Who were the first to exploit bees
for their Honey and Wax?
Early Humans relied on Hunting wild animals and
gathering vegetables and fruits, and in the course of
their hunter-gatherer lifestyle they would have come
across honey in bees’ nests high in the trees.
Bees provided our ancestors with perhaps their first
condiment – honey. This complex concoction was
alluring, and the desire for it drove men to work in
groups to capture the golden prize.
Their stories are documented in art, and cave
drawings from the Late Stone Age show a deeply
rooted association between humans and bees.
 Traynor, Kirsten. "Ancient Cave Painting Man of Bicorp".
MD Bee. Retrieved 2008-03-12.
Honey seeker depicted on
8000-year-old cave painting
near Valencia, Spain
The Earliest Known human-constructed beehive,
believed to be some three thousand years old, was
discovered in Palestine – but the Ancient Egyptians
were the first known beekeepers.
An archaeologist indicates the opening
of one of the ancient beehives found in
excavations in Rehov in Palestine.
Archaeologists digging in northern
Israel have discovered evidence of a
3,000-year-old beekeeping industry,
including remnants of ancient
honeycombs, beeswax and what they
believe are the oldest intact beehives
“When the Sun weeps a second time, and lets fall water
from his eyes, it is changed into working bees; they work
in the flowers of each kind, and honey and wax are
produced instead of water.” - pSalt 825, first millennium
The first official mention recognizing the importance of honey dates from the first
dynasty, when the title of "Sealer of the Honey" is given ; the oldest pictures of bee-
keepers in action are from the Old Kingdom: in Niuserre's sun temple bee-keepers are
shown blowing smoke into hives as they are removing the honey-combs. After extracting
the honey from the combs it was strained and poured into earthen jars which were then
sealed. Honey treated in this manner could be kept years. From the New Kingdom on
mentions of honey become more frequent 
, but only four depictions of honey
production and no actual hives have been found.
The main centre of bee-keeping was Lower Egypt with its
extensive irrigated lands full of flowering plants, where the bee
was chosen as a symbol for the country. Since earliest times one
of the pharaohs' titles was Bee King, and the gods also were
associated with the bee. The sanctuary in which Osiris was
worshipped, was the Hwt bjt , the Mansion of the Bee.
The Egyptians had a steady honey supply from their domesticated bees,
but they seem to have valued wild honey even more. Honey hunters, often
protected by royal archers, would scour the wild wadis for bee colonies.
“I appointed for thee archers and collectors of honey, bearing incense to deliver
their yearly impost into thy august treasury.”
Papyrus Harris, donation to the temple of Re at Heliopolis, New Kingdom
In a 4th century BCE papyrus containing the Myth of the Eye of Re the hives
are described as follows:
“One does not build a royal palace for the honey bee. A hive of dung is better
than a hive of stone [like a barn]...The house of the bee is effectively an
arrangement of combs, a place suitable for storing honey...It is more pleasant
for the bees beneath the honey combs.”
Myth of the Eye of Re, Leiden Cat, I 384
Harvesting generally takes place twice a
year, in spring and in late autumn. The
combs are gathered in a cow skin, then they
are crushed by treading on them and the
honey let flow out through a small hole in the
skin into containers. What was left in the skin
was put into a bowl and the remaining honey
washed out with a small amount of water,
passed through a sieve made of blades of
grass thus removing impurities.
The wax is rendered by heating, nowadays
done in a water bath to prevent it from
catching fire. Impurities floating on the
surface of the liquid wax can be scooped off,
then it is possibly strained and put into a bag
press. It has been estimated that for every
kilo of honey somewhat more than sixty
grammes of wax can be won.
The standing bee-keeper produces smoke,
while the one kneeling removes the combs
from the back of the clay hive after
breaking the mud sealing.
(Picture in the tomb of Rekhmire, 18th
After a photograph from Abd el
Wahab, The apiculture in Egypt, 2008)
Honey was used for sweetening, as sugar was unknown
in antiquity. It was part of the diet of the well-to-do, one
of one's - using the words of the courtier Ineni
“I was supplied from the table of the king with bread of oblations
for the king, beer likewise, meat, fat-meat, vegetables, various
fruit, honey, cakes, wine, oil. My necessities were apportioned in
life and health, as his majesty himself said, for love of me.”
Tomb of Ineni, reign of Thutmose II
Honey was too expensive for peasants and
servants, yet underlings found opportunities to
enjoy it as well, even if the consequence was that
the back would have to pay for the pleasures of
There was a documented attempt to introduce
bees to dry areas of Mesopotamia in the 8th
century BCE by Shamash-resh-u ur, theș
governor of Mari and Suhu. His plans were
detailed in a stele of 760 BCE
I am Shamash-resh-u ur , the governor of Suhu and the land of Mari. Bees thatș
collect honey, which none of my ancestors had ever seen or brought into the
land of Suhu, I brought down from the mountain of the men of Habha, and
made them settle in the orchards of the town 'Gabbari-built-it'. They collect
honey and wax, and I know how to melt the honey and wax – and the
gardeners know too. Whoever comes in the future, may he ask the old men of
the town, (who will say) thus: "They are the buildings of Shamash-resh-u ur,ș
the governor of Suhu, who introduced honey bees into the land of Suhu."
Stele showing Shamash-resh-
u ur praying to the godsș Adad
and Ishtar with an inscription in
The native Honey bee in Greece is Apis
mellifera cecropia in the south and Apis
mellifera macedonica in the north.
Honey and wax mentioned in Greeks
legends and stories could have come from
either natural nests or hives.
In Ancient Greece the introduction of beekeeping was attributed to
Aristaeus, a minor Greek deity of various rustic pursuits. From his
nurses and tutors, or from the Muses he learned the arts of
healing, prophecy and hunting, and especially the agricultural
pursuits of beekeeping, olive growing and cheese making.
C. Boulotis searched Linear B tables found at Mycenean sites
(1400 – 1200 B.C) and found no reference to hives or beekeeping,
however, the tables refer to the offering of hundreds of large jars
of honey on a single occasion, so organized honey production
must have existed.
What may be the first mention of the Hives in
Greek writings occurs in a passage written about
700 B.C. in which Hesiod castigated women by
likening them to drones.
In 594/593 B.C, beekeeping around Athens was
on such a scale that Solon passed a law about it:
“He who sets up hives of bees must put them 300
feet (100 m) away from those already installed by
In 415 B.C, hives were among the property listed
on inscriptions in Attica as confiscated by rich
and noble Athenians who were condemned as
malefactors for committing sacrilege.
Aristotle spent much of his life in Athens, and for
years he was Plato’s pupil and colleague.
Historia animalium was probably written while he
was staying on Lesbos (344 – 342 B.C).
Book V contained much about the life and activities of bee (see
chapter 52), but almost nothing about beekeeping. He referred
once to the hives: “The large size of the drone explains why some
bee – masters place a network in front of the hive … to keep the
big drones out while it lets the little bees go in.”
Beekeeping was dealt with in book IX (IX 40 . 624b) where a
passage show that a beekeeper got a fairly substantial
honey yield from a hive and how he used smoke to subdue
the bees. Nowhere is there any clue as to what the hives
Ephesus, fifth century. BC
Ø 15 mm
- Left: obverse, with bee and Greek
letters E and F
- Right: with incuse reverses
Ephesus, second century. BC
Ø 18 mm
- Left: obverse, with bee and Greek
letters E and F
- Right: back with deer and bees, and ment
ion: ΑΠΟΛΛΟΔΩP [ΟΣ] (Apollodor [os])
In Greece we can handle with excavated hives that were used before, during
and after Aristotle’s time, and we can still see beekeeping with hives like them
in some Aegean Islands. But no pictures of beekeeping are known in Ancient
Rome. However, pottery hives from the Roman Period have been excavated in
Spain, and the many extant Roman writings tell us more about beekeeping
methods, and the authors’ ideas and attitude to bees, than hives or pictures
could ever do.
Ancient Rome left an important beekeeping legacy,
based largely on passages in certain surviving Latin
texts on agriculture and natural history written between
about 200 B.C. and 400 A.D. No Pictures of beekeeping
in Roman times survive, and no hives excavated.
Beekeeping in India has been mentioned in ancient Vedas and
Buddhist scriptures. Rock paintings of Mesolithic era found in Madhya Pradesh
depict honey collection activities. Scientific methods of beekeeping, however,
started only in the late 19th century, although records of taming honeybees and
using in warfare are seen in early 19th century. After Indian independence,
beekeeping was promoted through various rural developmental programs. Five
species of bees that are commercially important for natural honey and beeswax
production are found in India.
There are around 25,000 known species of bee
worldwide (about 4000 species in the US, and over 250
species in Britain)....and there are probably more to be
(Note: This family also includes 'Sphecoid Wasps', not detailed here(
Apidae Includes: honey bees, bumblebees and stingless bees.
Megachilidae Mostly solitary bees, including leafcutter and mason bees.
Mining bees. A large family of bees, with many species. It includes the genera 'Andrena',
with other 1300 species alone.
Colletidae Believed to consist of around 2,000 species, and includes plasterer and yellow-faced bees.
Often called 'sweat bees', these are smallish bees, mostly dark coloured, but some having
green, yellow or red markings.
A small family of bees in Africa, with around 60 species belonging
to 4 genera.
Meganomiidae Small bee family of about 10 species in 4 genera. Found in Africa.
Originally called 'dasypodidae'. Small bee family found in Africa,
with more than 100 species in 8 genera.
Small bee family with around 21 species in 2 genera. Found in
Australia. Originally part of the 'Colletidae' family.
a fossil bee preserved in
amber from the
Early Cretaceous of
Long-tongued bees and
coevolved, like this
mouthparts of a
Head-on view of a
carpenter bee, showing
antennae, three ocelli,
compound eyes, sensory
bristles and mouthparts
Willing to die for their sisters: worker honey
bees killed defending their hive against
wasps, along with a dead wasp. Such
eusocial behaviour is favoured by the
haplodiploid sex determination system of
A honey bee swarm
A bumblebee carrying pollen in
its pollen baskets (corbiculae)
The mason bee Osmia
cornifronsnests in a hole in
dead wood. Bee "hotels" are
often sold for this purpose.
florentinum (family Me
Nest of the common
wax canopy has been
removed to show
winged workers and pup
ae in irregularly placed
Karl von Frisch (1953)
discovered that honey bee
workers can navigate,
indicating the range and
direction to food to other
workers with a waggle
The bee-fly Bombylius
major, a Batesian
mimic of bees, taking
nectar and pollinating
Bee orchid lures male
bees to attempt to mate
with the flower's lip, which
resembles a bee perched
on a pink flower.
1500 -1600 AD
• In 1586, Luis Méndez de Torres first
described the queen bee as a female that
• 1609 Charles Butler identified the
monarch as a female queen and the drone
as a male bee.
• In 1637, Richard Remnant recognized that
the worker bees were females.
• Fully movable frame, Leaf, hive 1789
• Observations on Bees
• Queen mating practices and role of Drones
• Discovery of
Queen bees 1835.
• Discovery of Royal
Jelly and its role in
(1810 – 1895)
“Father of American Beekeeping”
1836 - 1847
Eureka! 1851Lorenzo Langstroth
clarifies bee space, the
3/8 inch needed between
frames for bees to build
Movable Frame Hive is
the first and most
important invention in
creating a commercial
Honeybees around America
• Langstroth Movable Frame Hive - 1851
• Honeybees to California 1860’s
• 2 Million lbs of honey in CA in 1884
• What was a scarce product
became an abundant commodity
Inventions Fast and Furious
• Inventions fed off each other
– Pre-formed wax foundation: 1857
– Extractor: 1865 Francesco De
– Smokers: 1873 Moses Quimby
– Queen Excluder Improved
• Breeding Honeybees:
– Brother Adam
– Africanized Bees in the Americas 1950’s
• Brazil breeding station
• More Hybrids
• More Scientific Studies
• More interest in Beekeeping
1925 – Brother Adam
Breeding Honeybees for certain traits:
the Buckfast Bee
• Good Temper
• Propensity for hard
• Disinclination to
• Increased public awareness of the critical
role that Honeybees play in the ecosystem
and their role in pollination of food crops!
• Increased literary interest in Bees and
Beekeeping as evidenced by the success
of ‘The Secret Life of Bees’, ‘The
Beekeeper’s Apprentice’, etc.