Media Release

Neolithic farmers minded their own beeswax
London: Wednesday 11 November 2015 18:00 (GMT)
Sydney: Thursday 12 November 2015 05:00 (AEDT)
Humans have exploited bee products, such as honey, since at least 9,000 years ago, finds a
study published in Nature this week. Previous evidence for the association of humans with
honeybees has been variously inferred from ancient Egyptian iconography, rock art and beeswax
finds. However, it has remained uncertain when this association between early farmers and
honeybees (Apis mellifera) began.
Beeswax is made up of complex lipids that are highly constant in composition and can therefore
act as a chemical fingerprint on archaeological artefacts, such as pottery vessels, acting as a
proxy for the presence of honeybees.Using lipid residues preserved on 6,400 pottery vessels,
Mélanie Roffet-Salque and colleagues map the association between honeybees and early
farmers across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa through prehistory. They show that the
oldest evidence for beeswax comes from Neolithic sites in Anatolia dating back to the seventh
millennium bc and present the first evidence for honeybee exploitation in North Africa.
The lack of evidence for beeswax use at Neolithic sites north of the 57th parallel North (which, in
Europe, runs through Denmark) could suggest an ecological limit to the natural occurrence of
honeybees at the time, perhaps associated with harsh, high-latitude conditions. These findings
provide the first ancient biomolecule-based palaeoecological map of the distribution of this
economically and culturally important insect, and show that the human-honeybee partnership
goes back to the beginnings of agriculture.
Article and author details
1. Widespread exploitation of the honeybee by early Neolithic
Corresponding Author
Mélanie Roffet-Salque
University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom
Email:, Tel: +44 117 331 6795
Online paper*
* Please link to the article in online versions of your report (the URL will go live after the embargo ends).
Image 1
Caption: A hollow log hive of the Cévennes (France) reveals the details of circular comb
architecture in Apis mellifera.
Credit: Eric Tourneret