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, 527 (7577), 226-30

Widespread Exploitation of the Honeybee by Early Neolithic Farmers

Mélanie Roffet-Salque  1 Martine Regert  2 Richard P Evershed  1 Alan K Outram  3 Lucy J E Cramp  1   4 Orestes Decavallas  5   6 Julie Dunne  1 Pascale Gerbault  7   8 Simona Mileto  1   9 Sigrid Mirabaud  6 Mirva Pääkkönen  1   10 Jessica Smyth  1   4 Lucija Šoberl  1   11 Helen L Whelton  1 Alfonso Alday-Ruiz  12 Henrik Asplund  10 Marta Bartkowiak  13 Eva Bayer-Niemeier  14 Lotfi Belhouchet  15 Federico Bernardini  16   17 Mihael Budja  11 Gabriel Cooney  18 Miriam Cubas  19 Ed M Danaher  20 Mariana Diniz  21 László Domboróczki  22 Cristina Fabbri  23 Jesus E González-Urquijo  19 Jean Guilaine  24 Slimane Hachi  25 Barrie N Hartwell  26 Daniela Hofmann  27 Isabel Hohle  28 Juan J Ibáñez  29 Necmi Karul  30 Farid Kherbouche  25 Jacinta Kiely  31 Kostas Kotsakis  32 Friedrich Lueth  33 James P Mallory  26 Claire Manen  24 Arkadiusz Marciniak  13 Brigitte Maurice-Chabard  34 Martin A Mc Gonigle  35 Simone Mulazzani  36   37 Mehmet Özdoğan  30 Olga S Perić  38 Slaviša R Perić  38 Jörg Petrasch  39 Anne-Marie Pétrequin  40 Pierre Pétrequin  40 Ulrike Poensgen  41 C Joshua Pollard  42 François Poplin  43 Giovanna Radi  23 Peter Stadler  44 Harald Stäuble  45 Nenad Tasić  46 Dushka Urem-Kotsou  47 Jasna B Vuković  46 Fintan Walsh  48 Alasdair Whittle  49 Sabine Wolfram  50 Lydia Zapata-Peña  12 Jamel Zoughlami  51

Widespread Exploitation of the Honeybee by Early Neolithic Farmers

Mélanie Roffet-Salque et al. Nature.


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, the association of humans with A. mellifera predates post-industrial-revolution agriculture, as evidenced by the widespread presence of ancient Egyptian bee iconography dating to the Old Kingdom (approximately 2400 BC). There are also indications 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. However, when and where the regular association of 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, n-alkanoic acids and fatty acyl wax esters. The composition is highly constant as it is determined genetically through the insect's biochemistry. Thus, the chemical 'fingerprint' of beeswax provides a reliable basis for detecting this commodity in organic residues preserved at archaeological sites, which we now use to trace the exploitation by humans of A. mellifera temporally and spatially. Here 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 seventh millennium cal BC, likely fulfilling a variety of technological and cultural functions. 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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