Posts Tagged ‘ancient beekeeping’

Ancient Beekeeping and Laws


2010
11.14

I found this interesting tidbit about ancient beekeeping while trolling the web. I like that is has studies and dates to back it up, although I haven’t vetted it yet for accuracy.

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“Interesting, it sheds light on the agricultural economy of the time. Some further thoughts on ancient beekeeping from “Anchor Bible Dictionary”:

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“BEES. Although bees had been raised in Egypt from as early as the Old Kingdom (Kuény 1950), there is no evidence for this practice in ancient Palestine until the Hellenistic period (Neufeld 1978, which discusses earlier literature). Despite this lack of evidence, they may well have been raised. The one thing we know for sure is that the honey of wild bees was collected (cf. 1 Sam 14:25–28). The richest source of wild honey was the forest, but it could also be gathered from hives in the cliffs (Deut 32:13; Ps 81:17). The yield from honey hunting is surprisingly large. A single hive may produce as much as 50 kg (110 lb) of honey. Honey eaten in the comb may offer certain side benefits. It is not uncommon for the larvae to be eaten with the comb (cf. R. Bailey 1989: 685), and larvae are an excellent source of protein.

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Since bees were raised in Egypt, there was little need there to raid wild hives. The typical Egyptian beekeeping installation consisted of cylindrical ceramic tubes a meter or so in length laid horizontally one upon the other. These tubes were modeled after the hollow tree trunks or limbs in which one might encounter bees in the wild. When the honeycombs had been filled, honey could easily have been extracted from the end of the tube with a hook. This entire technology is precisely paralleled among modern Palestinian peasants (see discussion in Neufeld 1978).

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In Mesopotamia, the first evidence for beekeeping comes from the stele of Shamash-resh-usur (early 8th century B.C.E.), who boasts that he had “brought down from the mountain of Habha people, the flies which collect honey, which none of my predecessors had ever known or brought down … and located them in the gardens of the town GN. (There) they might now collect honey and wax. I (even) knew how to separate honey (from) wax by boiling (the comb) and (my) gardeners know it too” (Weissbach 1903: 11 col. iv.13–16; v.1–6). In view of the absence of any mention of honey hunting or beekeeping in texts prior to this time, Shamash-resh-usur´s claim is credible.”

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Another interesting – and earlier – text in relation to ancient beekeeping is a collection of old Hittite laws. Extraction from an article in “Context of Scripture”: “The Hittite laws were first written down in the Old Kingdom (ca. 1650–1500 BCE). They are therefore later than the Sumerian law collections of Ur-Nammu and Lipit-Ishtar and the Akkadian laws of Eshnunna and Hammurabi, but earlier than the Middle Assyrian laws and the laws of the Hebrew Bible.”

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And one part of the law-text goes:
“[If] anyone [steals bees] in a swarm, [formerly] they paid [… shekels of silver], but now he shall pay 5 shekels of silver. He shall look to his house for it. [If] anyone steals [2] or 3 beehives, formerly (the offender) would have been exposed to bee-sting. But now he shall pay 6 shekels of silver. If anyone steals a beehive, if there are no bees in the hive, he shall pay 3 shekels of silver.”

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So, beekeeping was apparently an economical factor significant enough to be both exposed to crime and subsequent legislation a very early time, at least in the Hittite empire of 1650-1500 BCE.”