SCIENCE

Humans Have Been Working With Bees For Longer Than Initially Thought

Farmers have been relying on them for about 9,000 years, says a new study.
Here's to 9,000 years of working with bees.
Here's to 9,000 years of working with bees.

History never seemed so sweet.

Farmers began using bees for their honey and other practical benefits at least 9,000 years ago, a new study suggests.

Researchers analyzed traces of beeswax in fragments of pottery found at Neolithic archaeological sites in Europe, the near East and northern Africa, says the study, which was published Thursday in the journal Nature. About 100 of the 6,400 pieces they studied included these products from the Apis mellifera -- what's better known as the honeybee.

"The chemical 'fingerprint' of beeswax provides a reliable basis for detecting this commodity in organic residues preserved at archaeological sites, which we now use to trace the exploitation by humans of A. mellifera temporally and spatially," the study says.

A bee and a flower.
A bee and a flower.

Previous research has shown that farmers used the beeswax for medical, cosmetic and ritual means, according to Scientific American, but this new research indicates they've been doing so for much longer than scientists thought. 

"This paper does extend human use of bee products back at least maybe 2,000 years," Gene Kritsky, chairman of biology at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati and a beekeeping historian, told NPR.

Researchers noted they weren't sure whether prehistoric farmers acted like modern-day beekeepers. Nevertheless, take this news as a reason to wax poetic about our longstanding relationship with the honeybee.

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