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Honeybees: Humans Have Relied On Beeswax Since the Stone Age

Nov 19, 2015 04:18 PM EST
Humans have been relying on beeswax since the Stone Age.
(Photo : Flickr: Peter Shanks)

The relationship between humans and bees dates back much earlier than previously thought. In fact, a new study from the University of the Basque Country revealed that humans first used beeswax in 7000 BC in Anatolia, where Asia and Europe meet today. This suggests the current loss of bee populations to pesticides, viruses and parasites may have a profound impact.

While many may think of honey as the most important product from a bee hive, beeswax is equally as valuable. Basically, beeswax is produced when honeybees consume honey. Humans continue to use beeswax for waterproofing, cosmetics, candles, and many other commercial uses today.  Since the substance is a unique lipid complex and basically is degradation-resistant, researchers identified and collected beeswax from organic residues preserved in ceramic vessels of the Neolithic period found in archaeological sites throughout Europe and North Africa, according to a news release.

"Now we know that beeswax was used continuously from the seventh millennium BC, probably as an integral part in different tools, in rituals, cosmetics, medicine, as a fuel or to make receptacles waterproof," Alfonso Alday, one of the study researchers, explained. (Scroll to read more...)

Preserved Beeswax
(Photo : A. Alday (UPV/EHU))
Neolithic vessels contained preserved beeswax, indicating the relationship between humans and bees dates back much earlier than previously thought.

In total, researchers examined over 6,400 prehistoric vessels to get a better idea of how widespread the association between humans and honeybees was during prehistoric times. For example, farming emerged during the Neolithic era, so forests were cleared to make room for pastures. As a result, bushes and flowers became more widespread and provided the perfect environment for bees to establish their hives and spread throughout habitats.

"Our study is the first to provide unequivocal evidence, based solely on a chemical 'fingerprint,' for the palaeoecological distribution of an economically and culturally important animal.  It shows widespread exploitation of the honeybee by early farmers and pushes back the chronology of human-honeybee association to substantially earlier dates," Professor Richard Evershed, co-author from the University of Bristol, added in a statement.

Their study was recently published in the journal Nature

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