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Widespread exploitation of the honeybee by early Neolithic farmers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Melanie Roffet-Salque
  • Martine Regert
  • Richard Evershed
  • Alan K. Outram
  • Lucy Cramp
  • Orestes Decavallas
  • Julie Dunne
  • Pascale Gerbault
  • Simona Mileto
  • Sigrid Mirabaud
  • Mirva Paakkonen
  • Jessica Smyth
  • Lucija Soberl
  • Helen Wheltonhttp://orcid.org/0000-0002-0844-9916
  • Alfonso Alday-Ruiz
  • Henrik Asplund
  • Marta Bartkowiak
  • Eva Bayer-Niemeier
  • Lotfi Belhouchet
  • Federico Bernardini
  • Mihael Budja
  • Gabriel Cooney
  • Miriam Cubas
  • Ed M. Danaher
  • Mariana Diniz
  • László Domboróczki
  • Cristina Fabbri
  • Jesus E. González-Urquijo
  • Jean Guilaine
  • Slimane Hachi
  • Barrie N. Hartwell
  • Daniela Hofmann
  • Isabel Hohle
  • Juan J. Ibáñez
  • Necmi Karul
  • Farid Kherbouche
  • Jacinta Kiely
  • Kostas Kotsakis
  • Friedrich Lueth
  • James P. Mallory
  • Claire Manen
  • Arkadiusz Marciniak
  • Brigitte Maurice-Chabard
  • Martin A. Mc Gonigle
  • Simone Mulazzani
  • Mehmet Özdoğan
  • Olga S. Perić
  • Slaviša R. Perić
  • Jörg Petrasch
  • Anne-Marie Pétrequin
  • Pierre Pétrequin
  • Ulrike Poensgen
  • Joshua Pollard
  • François Poplin
  • Giovanna Radi
  • Peter Stadler
  • Harald Stäuble
  • Nenad Tasić
  • Dushka Urem-Kotsou
  • Jasna B. Vuković
  • Fintan Walsh
  • Alasdair Whittle
  • Sabine Wolfram
  • Lydia Zapata-Peña
  • Jamel Zoughlami
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)226-230
Number of pages6
JournalNature
Volume527
Issue number7577
Early online date11 Nov 2015
DOIs
DateAccepted/In press - 29 Sep 2015
DateE-pub ahead of print - 11 Nov 2015
DatePublished (current) - 12 Nov 2015

Abstract

The pressures on honeybee (Apis mellifera) populations, resultingfrom threats by modern pesticides, parasites, predators and diseases,have raised awareness of the economic importance and critical rolethis insect plays in agricultural societies across the globe. However,the association of humans with A. mellifera predates post-industrialrevolutionagriculture, as evidenced by the widespread presenceof ancient Egyptian bee iconography dating to the Old Kingdom(approximately 2400 BC). There are also indications of Stone Agepeople harvesting bee products; for example, honey hunting isinterpreted from rock art in a prehistoric Holocene context anda beeswax find in a pre-agriculturalist site. However, when andwhere the regular association of A. mellifera with agriculturalistsemerged is unknown. One of the major products of A. mellifera isbeeswax, which is composed of a complex suite of lipids includingn-alkanes, n-alkanoic acids and fatty acyl wax esters. Thecomposition is highly constant as it is determined geneticallythrough the insect’s biochemistry. Thus, the chemical ‘fingerprint’of beeswax provides a reliable basis for detecting this commodityin organic residues preserved at archaeological sites, which we nowuse to trace the exploitation by humans of A. mellifera temporallyand spatially. Here we present secure identifications of beeswax inlipid residues preserved in pottery vessels of Neolithic Old Worldfarmers. The geographical range of bee product exploitationis traced in Neolithic Europe, the Near East and North Africa, providing the palaeoecological range of honeybees duringprehistory. 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 avariety of technological and cultural functions. The close associationof A. mellifera with Neolithic farming communities dates to the earlyonset of agriculture and may provide evidence for the beginnings ofa domestication process.

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