A common fondness for honey bees goes all the way back to the Stone Age, according to a vast survey of ancient artifacts. It's well known that people have liked bees—or rather, their honey and the handy wax in their honeycombs—for a long time. Bees are common in Egyptian hieroglyphics dating back to 2400 B.C.E.; some even older rock art appears to show people gathering honey. The new survey reveals the big picture of where and when harvesting honey and wax from wild bees became wildly popular. Searching for the chemical fingerprint of beeswax, the researchers examined fragments of about 6400 clay pots of Neolithic farmers living in the Near East, Europe, and North Africa. At least as far back as 9000 years ago, early farmers in what is now Turkey were using beeswax, the scientists report online today in Nature. Wax might have been used to waterproof pots; it could also be residue of honeycomb (see modern example above) used to sweeten food. A few thousand years later, beeswax was common among clay bowls and sieves in the Balkan Peninsula. Wax residue in pottery shows in Central Europe that honeycombs were also frequently used by the earliest known farmers there—living between 5500 and 5200 B.C.E.—about 1500 years earlier than previously thought. Beeswax turned up in pots as far north as Denmark, which may have been the ecological limit of honey bee range at that time.
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