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Widespread exploitation of the honeybee by early neolithic farmers

Widespread exploitation of the honeybee by early neolithic farmers
Widespread exploitation of the honeybee by early neolithic farmers
The pressures on Honeybee (Apis mellifera) populations, resulting from threats by modern pesticides, parasites, predators and diseases, have raised awareness of the economic importance and critical role this insect plays in agricultural societies across the globe. However, human’s association with A. mellifera predates post-industrial revolution agriculture, as evidenced by the widespread presence of ancient Egyptian bee iconography dating to the Old Kingdom (ca. 2400 BC). There are also hints of Stone Age people harvesting bee products; for example, honey hunting is interpreted from rock art in a prehistoric Holocene context and a beeswax find in a pre-agriculturalist site. Significantly though, as to when and where the regular association of the A. mellifera with agriculturalists emerged is unknown. One of the major products of A. mellifera is beeswax, which is composed of a complex suite of lipids including n-alkanes, nalkanoic acids and fatty acyl wax esters. The composition is highly constant being determined genetically through the insect’s biochemistry. Thus, the chemical ‘fingerprint’ of beeswax provides a secure basis for detecting this commodity in organic residues preserved at archaeological sites, which we now use to trace human’s exploitation of A. mellifera temporally and spatially. Herein, we present secure identifications of beeswax in lipid residues preserved in pottery vessels of Neolithic Old World farmers. The geographical range of bee product exploitation is traced in Neolithic Europe, the Near East and North Africa providing the palaeoecological range of honeybees during Prehistory. Temporally, we demonstrate that bee products were exploited continuously, and probably extensively in some regions, at least from the 7th millennium cal BC, likely fulfilling a variety of technological and cultural functions. Thus, the close association of A. mellifera with Neolithic farming communities dates to the early onset of agriculture and may provide evidence for the beginnings of a domestication process.
paleoecology, waxes
0028-0836
226-230
Roffet-Salque, M.
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Regert, M.
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Roffet-Salque, M.
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Regert, M.
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Cramp, L.J.E.
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Roffet-Salque, M., Regert, M. and Evershed, R.P. et al. (2015) Widespread exploitation of the honeybee by early neolithic farmers. Nature, 527, 226-230.

Record type: Article

Abstract

The pressures on Honeybee (Apis mellifera) populations, resulting from threats by modern pesticides, parasites, predators and diseases, have raised awareness of the economic importance and critical role this insect plays in agricultural societies across the globe. However, human’s association with A. mellifera predates post-industrial revolution agriculture, as evidenced by the widespread presence of ancient Egyptian bee iconography dating to the Old Kingdom (ca. 2400 BC). There are also hints of Stone Age people harvesting bee products; for example, honey hunting is interpreted from rock art in a prehistoric Holocene context and a beeswax find in a pre-agriculturalist site. Significantly though, as to when and where the regular association of the A. mellifera with agriculturalists emerged is unknown. One of the major products of A. mellifera is beeswax, which is composed of a complex suite of lipids including n-alkanes, nalkanoic acids and fatty acyl wax esters. The composition is highly constant being determined genetically through the insect’s biochemistry. Thus, the chemical ‘fingerprint’ of beeswax provides a secure basis for detecting this commodity in organic residues preserved at archaeological sites, which we now use to trace human’s exploitation of A. mellifera temporally and spatially. Herein, we present secure identifications of beeswax in lipid residues preserved in pottery vessels of Neolithic Old World farmers. The geographical range of bee product exploitation is traced in Neolithic Europe, the Near East and North Africa providing the palaeoecological range of honeybees during Prehistory. Temporally, we demonstrate that bee products were exploited continuously, and probably extensively in some regions, at least from the 7th millennium cal BC, likely fulfilling a variety of technological and cultural functions. Thus, the close association of A. mellifera with Neolithic farming communities dates to the early onset of agriculture and may provide evidence for the beginnings of a domestication process.

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Accepted/In Press date: 29 September 2015
Published date: 11 November 2015
Keywords: paleoecology, waxes
Organisations: Archaeology

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 383587
URI: https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/383587
ISSN: 0028-0836
PURE UUID: 4002c9be-8d93-4049-84b4-f999979b73c1

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 24 Nov 2015 10:41
Last modified: 17 Jul 2019 20:13

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Contributors

Author: M. Roffet-Salque
Author: M. Regert
Author: R.P. Evershed
Author: A.K. Outram
Author: L.J.E. Cramp
Author: O. Decavallas
Author: J. Dunne
Author: P. Gerbault
Author: S. Mileto
Author: S. Mirabaud
Author: M. Pääkkönen
Author: J. Smyth
Author: L. Šoberl
Author: H.L. Whelton
Author: A. Alday-Ruiz
Author: H. Asplund
Author: M. Bartkowiak
Author: E. Bayer-Niemeier
Author: L. Belhouchet
Author: F. Bernardini
Author: M. Budja
Author: G. Cooney
Author: M. Cubas
Author: E.M. Danaher
Author: M. Diniz
Author: L.. Domboróczki
Author: C. Fabbri
Author: J.E. González-Urquijo
Author: J. Guilaine
Author: S. Hachi
Author: B.N. Hartwell
Author: D. Hofmann
Author: I. Hohle
Author: J.J. Ibáñez
Author: N. Karul
Author: F. Kherbouche
Author: J. Kiely
Author: K. Kotsakis
Author: F. Lueth
Author: J.P. Mallory
Author: C. Manen
Author: A. Marciniak
Author: B. Maurice-Chabard
Author: M.A. Mc Gonigle
Author: S. Mulazzani
Author: M. Özdoğan
Author: O.S. Perić
Author: S.R. Perić
Author: J. Petrasch
Author: A-M. Pétrequin
Author: P. Pétrequin
Author: U. Poensgen
Author: C.J. Pollard
Author: F. Poplin
Author: G. Radi
Author: P. Stadler
Author: H. Stäuble
Author: N. Tasić
Author: D. Urem-Kotsou
Author: J.B. Vuković
Author: F. Walsh
Author: A. Whittle
Author: S. Wolfram
Author: Zapata- Zapata-Peña
Author: J. Zoughlami

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