Honey: a bit of history

Honey: a bit of history

Since the 1990s, chemical analysis tools have allowed us to determine the nature of the substances found in archaeological vessels. The chemist and archaeologist at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis, Martine Regert, explains that among the beehive products, the one most commonly found in old containers is wax, which has a recognizable and stable chemical signature over time. The oldest beeswax remains found by researchers come from Anatolia and date back to 7000 BC, during the Neolithic era, a period when humans settled down and practiced agriculture.

Harvesting honey

It is assumed that humans began by collecting honey from wild beehives: hollowed-out trunks in which swarms were deposited. Cave paintings found in Spain and dating from the Neolithic, indeed show characters taking honey from rock walls. On the walls of the Spider Caves (Cuevas de la Araña) near Valencia, a man hanging from lianas carries a basket to collect his harvest, his hand plunged into a tree trunk in search of honeycombs.

Cueva de la Araña

As for the first representations of domesticated bees, they date from the High Egyptian Empire, 2400 years before our era.

premières représentations d’abeilles domestiquées

The use of bee products over the centuries

Historically, bees have fascinated people. In many civilizations and beliefs, honey had a privileged place. In particular, it was inseparable from the rites and customs that accompanied birth and death.

Mesopotamia and Egypt

The Sumerians and Babylonians used honey in religious ceremonies. The Egyptians used it mixed with propolis to embalm their dead and prevent them from rotting; the make-up of honey was used to embellish the statue of a god or of a deceased by giving it color or shine. They also used it to heal wounds and to heal the eyes. For them, honey came from the tears of the god Ra and was part of all the religious offerings of Pharaonic Egypt.

In the hieroglyphic alphabet, the bee symbolizes royalty. There was certainly a monopoly of honey for the benefit of priests and kings, for whom it constituted, with wax, a part of the income.

Greece and ancient Rome

Wax tablets have been used as erasable and reusable writing media since ancient times and until the mid-19th century. The oldest known tablet comes from a Mycenaean boat and dates from the 14th century BC.

Tablettes de cire

The Greek philosophers Democritus and Pythagoras asserted that their exceptional longevity was due to their regular consumption of honey. Hippocrates (460-377 BC), spiritual father of medicine, advised honey in order to prolong existence in all its vigor. It made honey a fortifier of the sight and the sexual organs, a remedy for ear pains and an effective healing of wounds of all kinds. Among the Greeks, honey also represented eloquence. They compared the talents of great orators to the honey produced by bees. We find this same comparison in the Christian tradition (Saint Ambrose, patron saint of beekeepers was recognized for his talents as a speaker), as well as among the Hebrews (in Hebrew, the name given to the bee means word). In the Koran, the description of paradise mentions the presence of rivers of honey, it speaks in sacred terms of bees and honey: "honey is the first benefit that God has given to the Earth".

The god Zeus was called the bee man in reference to his childhood, during which he was fed on goat's milk and honey. The goddess Hera represented youth and offered honey to the gods so that they would avoid aging. During funeral ceremonies, the deceased took honey cakes with him to offer them to Pluto, god of the Underworld, so that it could provide him with health and well-being in the hereafter.

In ancient Rome, honey was the basis of cooking and had a sacred character. Pliny speaks at length about it in his Natural History, and the poet Virgil devotes the fourth book of the Georgics to beekeeping. The vocabulary used by the ancients to describe honey denotes the importance given to it: we speak of harvest. Like the Greeks, the Romans practiced offering honey to the gods. Among the offerings made to their dead, the Romans placed a jar of honey inside the tomb of the deceased to protect him in the afterlife.

Middle Ages and Renaissance

Ruches troncs

In the Middle Ages, beekeeping was subject to the right of bee: a feudal right authorizing kings, lords and abbeys to take a certain quantity of swarms, beehives, wax and / or honey in the apiaries of their vassals. From the 12th century, in Latin and French charters, we find designated under the name of bigres, the guards responsible for the surveillance of wild bees, the bigreries, and the harvesting of honey and waxes from these same swarms. But their most important function was to recover the wild swarms likely to colonize the trunk hives again. The breeding of "honey flies" was particularly developed in monasteries or in the forest by peasant communities or bigres.

Honey and wax were valuable resources: wax was used to make liturgical candles and honey was the only known sweetener.

Le miracle de l'hostie dans la ruche

In 1586, Luis Méndez de Torres wrote the first book on beekeeping in Castilian in which he claimed that the king of the bees was in fact a queen. In 1597, Theodorum Clutium of Leiden in turn confirmed that the king was a bienconinc, a queen. At that time the techniques for collecting honey were three: smothering with a wick of sulfur, which had the effect of killing all the bees; transferring from one beehive to another and removing the wax cakes, without even worrying about the content of the cakes. 

It was in 1730 that beekeeping experienced a new boom, with the invention of the hike, which allowed honey to be harvested without destroying the colony. This innovation will lead to the emergence of beekeeping in its modern form.

Honeycomb: honey in its raw state

Find the honey of our ancestors in our Organic Acacia Honeycombs harvested in France. The honey has not been extracted, handled, it rests in natural wax cells. It also contains  propolis and pollen: propolis has antiseptic, antiviral and healing actions; pollen is a source of protein.

Miel en brèche

The honeycomb is tasted by spreading a portion on a good slice of wholemeal bread or simply with a spoon. If a small ball of natural wax remains in your mouth, you can simply swallow it or get rid of it. The wax consumed provides benefits for the skin, hair and nails. 

It is a limited production because organic acacia honeycombs are rare.. 

discover our Organic Acacia Honeycomb