|15 June 2010
Ancient bees found in Israel hailed from Turkey
Archaeologists identified the remains of honeybees - including workers, drones, pupae, and larvae - inside about 30 clay cylinders thought to have been used as beehives in the Iron Age city of Tel Rehov in the Jordan Valley. The researchers carbon dated grains that had spilled from a broken storage jar next to the hives to estimate that they were about 3,000 years old. This makes the discovery the oldest known commercial beekeeping facility in the world and suggests extensive trading and complicated apiculture in Israel three millinnia ago.
Entomologists in Germany and Brazil who studied the bee remains found in the ancient hives established that the bees were not native to Israel, but were most closely related to Anatolian bees now common in Turkey. Turkish bees generally require a cooler, wetter climate than that of Israel, suggesting that they were imported rather than captured in the wild. The findings "Would imply an incredible amount of commodity trading of bees," said bee expert Gene Kritsky of the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, editor of American Entomologist. "This is a very special discovery because there is no prior evidence for bringing any kind of animals from such a distance, especially bees, which represent a quite complicated, sophisticated type of agriculture," said archaeologist Amihai Mazar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The lack of archaeological evidence of beekeeping is not surprising because the hives were constructed of straw-based unbaked clay. Even in the arid desert of Israel, such unbaked clays do not survive for long. The Tel Rehov hives were preserved as the result of an intense fire that destroyed large parts of the city but that baked the clay hives. These were clay cylinders, nearly a yard long and half a yard in diameter, with a small hole at one end for bees to enter and exit and a lid at the other end - with a handle "like the gas cap on a car," Mazar said - for keepers to get at the comb. They were arrayed side by side and stacked three deep.
The Israelites prized honeybees for the honey they produced and for the wax of their combs, which was used in metallurgical casting. Mazar estimated that there were 100 to 200 hives in the central part of the city, with 1.5 million to 2 million bees if all hives were in use. "That's quite strange for a city" because bees can be a nuisance, he said. "There must have been some central authority that forced the city to accept the apiaries. The location of such a large apiary in the middle of a dense urban area is puzzling because bees can be very aggressive, especially during routine beekeeping practices or honey harvesting."
Sources:Los Angeles Times (8 June 2010), Live Science (9 June 2010)
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