Honey-collecting in prehistoric West Africa from 3500 years ago

Julie B Dunne*, A Höhn, G Franke, K Neumann, P Breunig, Toby Gillard, Caitlin Walton-Doyle, Richard P Evershed

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Honey and other bee products were likely a sought-after foodstuff for much of human history, with direct chemical evidence for beeswax identified in prehistoric ceramic vessels from Europe, the Near East and Mediterranean North Africa, from the 7th millennium BC. Historical and ethnographic literature from across Africa suggests bee products, honey and larvae, had considerable importance both as a food source and in the making of honey-based drinks. To investigate this, we carried out lipid residue analysis of 458 prehistoric pottery vessels from the Nok culture, Nigeria, West Africa, an area where early farmers and foragers co-existed. Complex lipid distributions, comprising n-alkanes, n-alkanoic acids and fatty acyl wax esters, provide direct chemical evidence of bee product exploitation and processing, likely including honey-collecting, in over one third of lipid-yielding Nok ceramic vessels, These findings highlight the likely importance of honey collecting in an early farming context, around 3500 years ago, in West Africa.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 10 Feb 2021

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