There's been a ton of buzzworthy bee talk in recent news, as honeybees are struggling to survive -- and so will we, if things continue on this path. After all, bees are responsible for pollinating more than $15 million a year in crops just in the U.S. alone. If bee populations continue to dwindle, the honey bears filled with delicious organic honey we keep in our kitchens may soon be a rare and expensive find. Climate change, loss of habitat, and the use of harmful chemicals are making it extremely difficult for our world's bees to thrive. But it wasn't always that way. Let's take a look back in time at this short (and sweet) history of beekeeping.
It all began with Egypt
There are Mesolithic rock paintings that depict honey harvesting and hieroglyphics of bees, so it's likely that humans were consuming honey as early as 15,000 BC or maybe even earlier. But you might be surprised to learn that you probably wouldn't have those cute honey bears at home if it weren't for the ancient Egyptians. Honey was actually a staple in their diet. Archaeologists have even discovered honey jars buried within the tombs of pharaohs! In fact, pharaohs were even called "Bee Kings." But the ancient Egyptians didn't have the modern beekeeping equipment we have now, of course. They created cylindrical hives, which could be stacked up to eight feet in height, using mud from the Nile River.
Then, honey came to Europe and beyond
Some records show that ancient peoples from the UK and Scotland were making honey ales between 300 and 600 BC. But it's also mentioned in ancient texts like the Bible and Homer's Odyssey. Tree beekeeping caught on in Europe during the Middle Ages, although honey had been in use for centuries. It actually wasn't until the 1700s that people realized bees made honey by gathering flower nectar; until that time, they thought bees were just the gatherers who were able to scoop up this ready-made sweet stuff! In the 1800s, a polish apiculturist named Johann Dzierzon created the first comb beehive that allowed keepers to move each honeycomb without destroying the entire hive. Based on his design, others followed suit -- and beekeeping continues to evolve even today.
Historical uses of honey
These days, we know that the bee pollen and the organic, local honey in your honey bears provide countless nutritional benefits. And even though people in the past didn't have the science to back that up, that's exactly what they thought, too! Ancient civilizations not only used honey for food but also utilized it for medicinal purposes, cosmetics, and even the production of alcohol. Beeswax, of course, was used as a source of light (i.e., candles), painting, pharmaceuticals, makeup, and to seal official documents later on. Bee pollen has also historically been used as a medicine, as a food source, and even as an aphrodisiac.
Essentially, people have always turned to honey! And countless people continue to do so today. Whether it's as a note of sweetness in your afternoon tea, as a sugar substitute in your baked goods, or as a delicious component of your supper, there's nothing quite so sweet and satisfying as what our bees can provide.