Oldest known archaeological example of beekeeping discovered in Israel

September 1st, 2008 - 3:38 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, September 1 (ANI): Scientists have unearthed the remains of a large-scale beekeeping operation at a nearly 3,000-year-old Israeli site, which dates to the time of biblical accounts of King David and King Solomon, thus becoming the oldest known archaeological example of beekeeping.
Excavations in northern Israel at a huge earthen mound called Tel Rehov revealed the Iron Age settlement.
From 2005 to 2007, workers at Tel Rehov uncovered the oldest known remnants of human-made beehives, according to excavation director Amihai Mazar and colleagues.
No evidence of beekeeping has emerged at any other archaeological sites in the Middle East or surrounding regions.
“The discovery of an industrial apiary at Tel Rehov constitutes a unique and extraordinary discovery that revolutionizes our knowledge of this economic endeavor, particularly in ancient Israel,” said Mazar, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Many scholars assume that ancient Israelis made honey from fruits such as figs and dates. Nowhere does the Bible mention beekeeping as a way to produce honey.
The earliest known depiction of beekeeping appears on a carving from an Egyptian temple that dates to 4,500 years ago.
It shows men collecting honeycombs from cylindrical containers, pouring honey into jars and possibly separating honey from beeswax.
“Beehives portrayed in ancient Egyptian art resemble those found at Tel Rehov, as well as hives used today by traditional Mediterranean and Middle Eastern groups,” said entomologist Gene Kritsky of the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati.
“Tel Rehov is so important because it contains a full apiary, demonstrating that this was a large-scale operation,” he added.
Mazar’’s team has so far uncovered 25 cylindrical containers for bees in a structure that is centrally located in the ancient city at Tel Rehov.
High brick walls surrounded the apiary. Beehives sat in three parallel rows, each containing at least three tiers. Each beehive measured 80 centimeters long and about 40 centimeters wide.
In the best-preserved beehives, one end contains a small hole for bees to enter and exit. A removable lid with a handle covers the other end.
Chemical analyses of two Tel Rehov beehives revealed degraded beeswax residue in the containers” unfired clay walls.
The researchers are now examining pollen remains and bee bodies found in charred honeycombs from inside the hives.
According to Mazar, the ancient apiary contained at least 75 and perhaps as many as 200 beehives.
A clay platform of the same width as a nearby row of hives probably served as a foundation for some of the hives.
“The facility held more than 1 million bees and had a potential annual yield of 500 kilograms of honey and 70 kilograms of beeswax,” said Mazar. (ANI)

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