Pollinators garden at Panorama with an apiary demonstrating ancient beekeeping
- Do you know why bees are important and why they need to be protected?
Bees act as pollinators in nature. This means that they feed on pollen and nectar and they also feed their larvae with pollen and nectar, transferring pollen from one to another plant of the same species. This enables the production of the fruits or seeds that plants use to reproduce. This is also how fruits and seeds are produced by cultivated plants such as apples, pears, cherries, cucumbers and many others, which are important sources of human nutrition. However, because bees carry more pollen and nectar into their dwellings than they need, we humans can also use and benefit from their products.
- Do you know which bee products people use and why?
The most well-known bee product is honey, which is used as a sweetener in our nutrition and, due to its antimicrobial properties, as a medicine. In addition to honey, beeswax is also an important bee product, used as an organic binder in cosmetics, giving the skin softness and elasticity. It is also used as a binder in some paints and coatings, to protect metals from corrosion, in candle making and in the food industry. People also use pollen collected by bees, royal jelly secreted from their glands, propolis and bee venom. Particularly valuable is propolis, an effective natural antibiotic that inhibits the growth of bacteria and viruses, promotes wound healing, and helps to treat inflammation. Pollen and royal jelly are used as medicines or as supplements in the human diet. Bee venom is used in the cosmetics industry as a natural substitute for Botox and in medicine to treat joint disorders, and to alleviate health problems in people who are allergic to bee stings.
- Do you know when the use of bee products and the beekeeping began?
People have recognised the beneficial properties of bee products since the Stone Age. Analyses of organic residues or lipids on ceramic vessels from various archaeological sites show that bee products were used intensively in Europe and the Middle East from the 7th millennium BC onwards, which can be considered as the beginning of the domestication process of bees. The earliest depictions of honey gathering from wild bees are from the Cueva de la Araña cave near Valencia, Spain, dating from between 8,000 and 6,000 BC, while the first depictions of bees in man-made dwellings are shown on Egyptian reliefs and described in hieroglyphic texts dating from between 3,100 and 2,650 BC.
Ancient Egyptians worshipped bees and believed they came from the tears of the supreme sun god Ra, and the bee-shaped hieroglyph signified the kingdom of Lower Egypt. Initially, bees were kept in hives made of clay tubes 1.2 m in size and 0.3 m in diameter. Kings and priests had a monopoly on the production and use of honey. Honey was used daily as a sweetener, as an offering to the gods, as an ingredient in embalming and, in temples, as an ingredient in the manufacture of medicines and perfumes. In the Ebers Papyrus on the Preparation of Medicines for Wounds and Diseases, dating from the 16th century BC, honey and beeswax are mentioned in around 500 of the 900 medicines.
Bees were also kept in the contemporary high cultures of Anatolia and Minoan Crete, and later in ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. For example, the Greek philosopher Hippocrates (466-377 BC) recommended the use of honey for fever and wound healing, and the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC), in his book “History of Animals”, devoted a special chapter to bees and beekeeping, explaining how bees behave when kept. Honey was seen as a blessing from the gods. It was used mainly as a sweetener and as a medicine, while mead (an alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey) was regarded as the drink of gods and kings, not only in Greece but also in contemporary cultures in central Europe, as shown by analyses of the contents of large bronze vessels from the richest graves of the time. One of the largest, from the princely grave at Hochsdorf in south-western Germany, dating from around 550 BC, originally contained around 400 litres of mead.
- Do you know that bee products were used on the territory of today’s Slovenia as early as the 5th millennium BC?
Archaeological research and scientific analysis show that people began using bee products on the territory of Slovenia no later than the middle of the 5th millennium BC, or around 4500 BC. Their use was very diverse.
Analyses of lipid residues preserved in the walls of ceramic vessels at the sites of Moverna vas in Bela Krajina and Ajdovska jama in Posavje indicate that bee products were used, possibly in the form of honey.
A human mandibule with a damaged tooth filled with beeswax was found in the Ločka Cave near Črni Kal. The bone has been dated to around 4500 BC, which could be the earliest record of tooth filling in the world.
A third way of using bee products was found in the case of small ceramic bottles from the Early Copper Age, which were discovered at the sites of Spodnje Hoče and Zgornje Radvanje near Maribor and Popava 1 in Prekmurje in the second half of the 19th century. Analyses of three such bottles showed that beeswax or propolis probably served as a binding agent most likely in cosmetic product mixture, thus presenting the earliest record of beeswax being used as a binder in Europe.