Notable: Beeswax found in Neolithic pottery vessels across Europe

1 minute read

Notable paper: Roffet-Salque, Mélanie et al. 2015. Widespread exploitation of the honeybee by early Neolithic farmers. Nature 527: 226–230. doi:10.1038/nature15757

Synopsis: Roffet-Salque and colleagues sampled organic residues from Neolithic-era pottery sherds across much of Europe, Turkey and the Levant. They found evidence of beeswax in a small fraction of the sherds spanning much of this area, including from early Linearbandkeramik (LBK) Neolithic sites in north-central Europe, from Çatalhöyük in Anatolia as early as 9000 years ago, and for the first time from North Africa at Gueldaman, Algeria.

Interesting because: The widespread exploitation of beeswax across Europe as soon as pottery was made by Neolithic farmers shows that the systematic exploitation of honey and wax was part of the strategies of early farmers. The use of wax is itself interesting, as it is not principally dietary but is to make other things: candles, cosmetics, unguents and medicines.

Looking further back: Honey foraging is a major activity by hunting and gathering people around the world today, and constitutes the second-largest caloric contribution of men to their societies (behind hunting). Honey is a part of chimpanzee diets today, and foraging for honey has given rise to some of the most complex toolkits used by chimpanzees in their native habitats. Honeyguides are birds that exploit beehives that are destroyed by other honey foraging animals, and some species seek out people to guide them to the bees. The evolution of this cooperation probably indicates a long association of these birds and earlier hominins. Personally, I also wonder how far back beeswax was used by humans for cosmetic or other purposes, particularly after the recent revelation that milk was used by MSA people as a pigment additive.