Ancient pottery reveals the first evidence for honey hunting in prehistoric West Africa — ScienceDaily

A group of researchers, led by the University of Bristol, with colleagues from Goethe College, Frankfurt, has found the 1st proof for historical honey looking, locked within pottery fragments from prehistoric West Africa, courting back again some 3,500 a long time ago.

Honeybees are an iconic species, being the world’s most crucial pollinator of foodstuff crops. Honeybee hive items, like beeswax, honey and pollen, applied both equally for food and medicinal purposes, aid livelihoods and provide resources of income for nearby communities across much of Africa, by means of both beekeeping and wild harvest.

Today, honey is collected from wild bee nests in numerous African countries. In the West African tropical rain forest, looking for wild honey, uncovered in pure hollows in tree trunks and on the underside of thick branches, is a typical subsistence activity.

It is not acknowledged how lengthy humans have been exploiting bee items. Honey would surely have been a rare supply of sweetener for ancient people today and was possibly extremely sought after. Even so, there is incredibly minor surviving proof for historical human exploitation of the honeybee, except for palaeolithic rock art which reveals bees and honeycombs, spanning the interval 40,000 to 8,000 many years ago, the bulk of which is found in Africa.

Historical and ethnographic literature from throughout Africa also indicates that bee items, honey and larvae, were vital both equally as a food source and in the building of honey-dependent drinks, these kinds of as beer and wine.

The Bristol team were carrying out chemical investigation of more than 450 prehistoric potsherds from the Central Nigerian Nok lifestyle to examine what foodstuff they had been cooking in their pots. The Nok men and women are known for their outstanding big-scale terracotta collectible figurines and early iron manufacturing in West Africa, all over the 1st millennium BC. Acidic soils at Nok archaeological web-sites intended that organic continues to be this sort of as animal bones and crops did not survive incredibly very well so what Nok persons were being ingesting was somewhat of a secret.

To the team’s fantastic shock, their findings, printed currently in the journal Nature Communications, uncovered that around 1 3rd of the pottery vessels applied by the ancient Nok people today had been used to procedure or shop beeswax. The existence of beeswax in historical pottery is recognized by means of a elaborate series of lipids, the fats, oils and waxes of the organic world. The beeswax is likely present as a consequence possibly of the processing (melting) of wax combs by way of gentle heating, major to its absorption inside the vessel partitions, or, alternatively, beeswax is assumed to act as a proxy for the cooking or storage of honey by itself.

Honey is often an important food supply for hunter-gatherers and there are a number of groups in Africa, these kinds of as the Efe foragers of the Ituri Forest, Japanese Zaire, who have traditionally relied on honey as their primary source of food items, gathering all pieces of the hive, including honey, pollen and bee larvae, from tree hollows which can be up to 30 m from the floor, applying smoke to distract the stinging bees.

Honey might also have been made use of as a preservative to keep other solutions. Amongst the Okiek people today of Kenya, who rely on the trapping and looking of a wide wide range of match, smoked meat is preserved with honey, becoming stored for up to a few many years, A variety of the Nok pots contained chemical proof for the existence of the two beeswax and meat products.

As nicely as working with honey as a foods supply, it may perhaps have been utilized to make honey-based beverages, wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages, which are commonplace across Africa these days, whilst it ought to be famous that the chemical identification of ancient fermentation is notoriously challenging. The writings of historical explorers give insights into the antiquity of these tactics. For instance, Ibn Battuta, the Muslim Berber scholar and explorer, although visiting Mauritania in 1352, tells of a sour drink manufactured from floor millet combined with honey and sour milk. A even further account of the preparation of wine from honey is discovered in a record of a Portuguese pay a visit to to the west coast of Africa (1506-1510).

Honey and beeswax might also have been employed for medicinal, cosmetic and technological reasons. Beeswax has also variously been employed from prehistoric moments as a sealant or waterproofing agent on Early Neolithic collared flasks in northern Europe, as a lamp illuminant in Minoan Crete and combined with tallow, probably for creating candles, in medieval vessels at West Cotton, Northamptonshire. Lead writer, Dr Julie Dunne from the College of Bristol’s School of Chemistry, said: “This is a outstanding instance of how biomolecular facts extracted from prehistoric pottery, mixed with ethnographic information, has offered the 1st insights into historical honey searching in West Africa, 3,500 many years ago.”

Professor Richard Evershed FRS who heads up Bristol’s Organic Geochemistry Device and is a co-author of the examine, added: “The association of prehistoric people with the honey bee is a recurring topic throughout the historical globe, however, the discovery of the chemical parts of beeswax in the pottery of the Nok men and women delivers a special window on this romance, when all other resources of evidence are missing.”

Professor Peter Breunig from Goethe University who is the archaeological director of the Nok task and co-creator of the study, claimed: “We at first commenced the review of chemical residues in pottery sherds since of the lack of animal bones at Nok web sites, hoping to come across evidence for meat processing in the pots. That the Nok people exploited honey 3,500 years in the past, was completely unforeseen and is exceptional in West African prehistory.”

Professor Katharina Neumann from Goethe University, Frankfurt, who is the archaeobotanical director of the Nok job and co-author of the examine, added: “Plant and animal stays from archaeological web sites usually reveal only a compact part of what prehistoric individuals experienced been consuming. Chemical residues of beeswax in potsherds opens up totally new perspectives for the heritage of useful resource exploitation and historic diet program.”

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