I bet You wonder sometimes about the origins. There are more or less popular topics out there, covering history and lifes of our ancestors, how they domesticated animals and how their lifestyle was changing from hunters, gatherers to settlers, but… what about bees? Where are they in all of this? How did they become so close to people and how did it all begin? It is a long story with chapters and a few gaps, but I will try to cover the earliest times and nature of this relationship to show You the whole process in a few articles.
The oldest historical sources indicate that bees were probably a part of human life since…ever? Poor documentation in form of cave paintings dated 8-15 thousands years ago are showing that people knew about treasures guarded carefully by little insects and were aware how to obtain them. Nevertheless, it is what modern science know by having some proof, which doesn’t really tell us anything about what happened before and how did people really get to know bees. Slavic mythology says that first people – The Zerivans – were given the knowledge about bees tens of thousands of years ago by „gods” – that’s how they knew how to find, approach and behave with bees and how to use their gifts, but that’s a topic for another text:)
The picture on the left is showing a painting that was found at Arana Cave, near Valencia in Spain and it shows a person collecting from bees located high above the ground, without any protection. Picure below show the same procedure in diferent location. That’s impressive but…try to imagine – primal Earth covered in impenetrable forests full of wild, sometimes dangerous animals and plants, thick bushes and other amazing „surprises” of old woods. How are You supposed to find a little bug there, which is as big as a penny? You need this bug, because it will show You the way to a colony which is full of sweet, energy-giving honey. And You definitely want to find it. Nevermind if You are lucky enough to find a colony while enjoying a walk in the forest, but that was considered a miracle,a great blessing and really wasn’t common so there was obviously a different tactic. This first step to collect resources from bees is called „Bee hunting”.
Before people got the idea to keep bees close to themselves in hives they were stealing from them. Bees were living in forests, usually inside an old tree or in small stone caves, mostly high above the ground which was natural protection from most of dangers.. It was necessary to find the colony first so people developed different tactics which are used till today around the world. Bee hunting became a craft, natural science.
Bees, like every living creature needs water, so people were waiting and observing streams, river sides and other natural sources of water, but it was difficult to follow little, brown insect which wasn’t always going straight back home. Later, people began to prepare traps using honeycombs or other sweet substances which would attract bee which they marked with white paint and follow fully fed bee to the nest.
It is possible to also hear bees if You know the characteristic sound of their buzz. It is a specific vibration which can’t be mistaken. But still, You need to be close enough, a couple hundrets meters max, if colony is super strong, so searching is definitely necessary. With small nests high above the ground, to hear them is almost impossible.
Another quite logical tactic is visiting and observing plants and trees which are a natural source of nectar which bees will drink and carry back to their nest, but again, marking was necessary or…having an eye of an eagle:)
On the Cape of Good Hope people were searching for bees with a help of a bird – Cuculus indicator (Cockoo family) – african bird which was willingly feeding of bees larvaes. Following such a bird would often result with finding bees colony somewhere in the wilderness. Those birds were and are domesticated for such a purpose even now.
In other places around the world, where climate is not so welcoming, another tactic consisted of looking for dead bees on the snow during winter. Insects were annoyed by knocking of the woodpeckers so they went outside the nest and freeze. Tiny brown speck on the whiteness of a snow was giving quite a chance to locate sleeping colony. Till today in northern countries people are collecting resources from wild bees which didn’t survive the winter. After locating the nest, they would use smoke and fire to kill rest of the bees and take the honey. Such a family has literally no chance to rebuild itself anyway, so it isnt’ considered a crime.
In tropical countries most common time to collect honey was at night, during full moon or with a use of a torch, even though today most beekeepers and bee hunters would collect honey during a day when many bees are outside of their nest or hive, which gives less risk of an attack. Still, it is backed by tradition and cirmustances so I won’t generalize.
For people living in Middle Africa or Native Americans these methods didn’t change much over time and in many places and among many indigenous cultures who perceive bees as sacred and take care of them like they are the treasures of a community, traditional way of searching for bees and collecting honey is cherished and cultivated till today. Bees natural inhabitats are not destroyed for human comfort, but protected and left alone to thrive with just a few visits per year to obtain part of their honey and leave the rest for the bees. It is also very fascinating topic which I shall cover in some future article:))