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Publication - Dr Lucy Cramp

    Widespread exploitation of the honeybee by early Neolithic farmers


    Roffet-Salque, M, Regert, M, Evershed, R, Outram, AK, Cramp, L, Decavallas, O, Dunne, J, Gerbault, P, Mileto, S, Mirabaud, S, Paakkonen, M, Smyth, J, Soberl, L, Whelton, H, Alday-Ruiz, A, Asplund, H, Bartkowiak, M, Bayer-Niemeier, E, Belhouchet, L, Bernardini, F, Budja, M, Cooney, G, Cubas, M, Danaher, EM, Diniz, M, Domboróczki, L, Fabbri, C, González-Urquijo, J, Guilaine, J, Hachi, S, Hartwell, B, Hofmann, D, Hohle, I, Ibáñez, JJ, Karul, N, Kherbouche, F, Kiely, J, Kotsakis, K, Lueth, F, Mallory, JP & others 2015, ‘Widespread exploitation of the honeybee by early Neolithic farmers’. Nature, vol 527., pp. 226-230


    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.

    Full details in the University publications repository