Honey would have been found in bees’ nests high in the trees during early human hunter-gatherer lifestyles in which they hunted wild animals and harvested vegetables and fruits. On our ancestor’s day, honey was the first condiment our ancestors consumed. Men worked together to capture the golden prize because this complex concoction was alluring.
Throughout history, humans have had a deep association with bees, documented in art and cave drawings. Men climbing seemingly impossible trees, risking falls and stings, to pass sweet comb down to helpers below, are depicted in art dating back thirteen thousand years. In the past, honey harvesting was limited to bravery, and beekeeping was an ancient practice developed several thousand years ago.
In Israel, an ancient beehive thought to have been constructed by humans some three thousand years ago was discovered. However, the ancient Egyptians were the first known beekeepers. Beekeeping has a long history in Egypt, dating at least as far back as 2400 BCE, and perhaps as far back as 5000 BCE based on cave drawings.
Beekeeping practices in Egypt developed from relying on wild bees’ nests to becoming extremely sophisticated. Aside from creating permanent beehives made of woven baskets covered in clay, they also used migratory hives that floated down the River Nile on rafts, creating unique blends of honey as the bees visited the ever-changing flowers along the way.
Through artificial selection, the Egyptians gave evolution a helping hand to produce a distinct subspecies of the honeybee, the Egyptian honey bee (Apis mellifera lamarckii), which was the most productive and reliable honey bee in their local environment.
Certainly, some beekeepers were of a lower class, forced to work with aggressive bees to produce honey for their superiors and eventually for the gods and the pharaohs. In search of wild hives, honey harvesters explored deep into the surrounding land, accompanied by official guards.
North and South America
Mesoamericans (Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua) kept stingless bees for over two thousand years before Europeans introduced western honey bees. Brazil is home to at least 250 species of stingless bees, and North America alone has at least 4,000 species.
However, the western honey bee is not native to the continent. Europeans introduced beekeeping with honey bees to the New World in the seventeenth century in an effort to produce sustainable food. This unexplored new area was home to some colonies of honey bees that escaped their beekeepers’ control and flew off into the woods.
These feral honey bees were called “white man’s flies” by Native Americans because they announced the arrival of settlers, and their presence foretold the inevitable conflict over land.