Bee History

MYSTERIES OF THE HONEYBEE

AmberA one hundred million year old piece of amber was found that contained a precursor of the modern honeybee.

This 100-million-year-old bee embedded in amber was found in an amber mine in the Hukawng Valley, Kachin state, northern Myanmar (Burma).

The oldest honeybee fossils that have been found are 22-25 million years old.

HeiroglyphicsAlmost every age has thought of the honeybee as a great friend and is probably the best loved animal of all time. Many cultures felt the honeybee knew special magic.

Ancient Egypt had a highly advanced culture. As early as 3500BC, the Egyptians cut images of bees in their monuments and wrote about the life of the hard working honeybee on papyrus scrolls.

The Egyptians were the first known beekeepers. Egypt was the center for beekeeping in the ancient world.

Egyptian CartoucheEgyptian carving

To ancient Egyptians, the honeybee symbolized royalty. The honeybee was a symbol for the whole kingdom of Lower Egypt, and the honeybee hieroglyphic is at the base of a statue of the famous King Tut or Tutankamen.

Jars of honey and honey cakes were often discovered in the tombs of Egyptian royalty.  The Egyptians only put their favorite things in the tombs.  Honey was found in the tomb of Tutankhamen and many other king and queens. Most of the time, this several thousand year old honey was still good to eat. No modern day foods or medicines would come close to keeping so long.

There were no refrigerators in ancient times, so Romans, East Indians and Chinese covered their meats with honey to preserve them. Fruits and vegetables preserved in honey would be good for years.

LONG LIFE

Honey & PollenIn Arabia, Babylon, Crete, Egypt, Greece, India, Persia, and Malta, our ancestors agreed that honey and bee products such as pollen and propolis were amazing foods that contained the secrets of strength, health and long life. Some even believed the honeybee knew the secret of immortality or living forever.

In Norse mythology, ambrosia was called “food for the gods” and “the secret of eternal life.” Ambrosia is honey and pollen.

Olympic AthletesIn ancient Greece, honey with pollen was given to the  first Olympic athletes to increase strength and  stamina. Pliny the Elder lived in Rome between AD23 and AD79. He traveled and wrote a great deal about the wonders of honey and the honeybee. Pliny wrote about a place in Italy near the Po River where the tax records show that 124 people lived to between 100-135 years old. 

PlinyMany were beekeepers and the people ate lots of honey and used bee products. Pliny personally never got a chance to see if honey worked for long life. He died in AD 79 trying to save friends from a lava flow when Mt. Vesuvius erupted.

Piast, King of Poland was a beekeeper, in AD 824 lived to 125.

History often mentions that the ancient people of Britain enjoyed long lives. The original name of Great Britain was “The Honey Isle of Beli”. Beekeeping was a major industry and the people ate lots of honey and bee products. 

Sir Owen of Scotland died at the age of 131 and lived on milk, honey, vegetables, water and wine. Thomas Parr, a British man from  Shropshire lived to be 152. He married and had a child at the age of 102. He ate lots of honey, honey wine or mead, and bee products.

Scotland

Today, Dr. Nicolai Tsitsin, a Russian biologist, is studying families in the mountains of Russia who are some of the most long- lived people in the world. Many live over 100 years. They are beekeepers who eat a lot of honey and bee pollen.

BEE MEDICINE

MedicineWhen we talk about ancient honey cures we know that raw unheated and unfiltered honey and bee pollen were used.

Writings over 2000 years old show that Egyptian doctors called honey the cure for many things.  Most of their medicines contained honey.

HippocratesHippocrates, the ancient Greek physician who was known as the “father of modern medicine,” also used honey in many of his formulas.

In ancient China, honey was used to heal smallpox. Records were found that say honey did cure small pox and the people had no scars.

Honey is hygroscopic, which means it sucks up water. When virus or bacteria cells are put in honey the honey takes all their water out and they die.

Our ancestors used honey to treat burns, infections, ulcers, sore throats, coughs, eye problems, and wounds. Today honey is being used successfully to treat burns.

PropolisPliny the Elder (23-79BC), the great Roman naturalist wrote 37 books called Historia Naturalis. He wrote a lot about propolis or bee glue. Propolis was used for pain and sores. It’s made from tree sap and beeswax. It is antiseptic, antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal.

Honey was used for fighting infection until the early 20th century when the first antibiotic, penicillin, was discovered.

Because of the overuse of antibiotics, many antibiotic resistant diseases have developed. Studies proved that Manuka honey and raw honey kill many of these deadly bacteria.

Today, scientific studies by the US Bureau of Entomology show that honey kills deadly typhoid germs in 48 hours.  In 2008, the FDA allowed the first honey medical products for wounds and burns.

ANCIENT ART, JEWELRY AND COINS

Cooin from EphesusThis coin from Ephesus was made between 600 and 550 BC. The honeybee was one of the first symbols used on Greek coins. In fact, there are 215 Greek coins with a bee symbol.

Bee GoddessThe priestesses of various goddesses were called melissae or “bees.” This bee Goddess comes from Rhodes Greece, 7th century BCE. The Greeks felt that the honeybee was sacred and featured it a great deal in their mythology.

Cretian pendant

This gold pendant, above, is from Mallia, near Knossos, Crete, 1700-1550 BC. It depicts 2 bees on either side of a honeycomb.

RESOURCES/BOOKS

Beck, Bodog, M.D. and Smedley, Doree: Honey and Your Health: A Nutrimental, Medicinal, and Historical Commentary, Dodd, Mead, and Co., New York, NY, 1938

Bishop, Holly: Robbing the Bees, A Biography of Honey. Simon & Shuster, NY, NY 2005

Brown, Roydan: The World’s Only Perfect Food: The Bee Pollen Bible, Holm Press, Prescott, AZ, 1993

Ransome, Hilda M. The Sacred Bee in Ancient Times and Folklore, Dover Publications, Mineola, NY 2004

RESOURCES/EGYPTIAN PHOTOGRAPHY

Kenneth Stein, www.kensteinphotography.com