Depictions of humans collecting honey from wild bees date to 10,000 years ago. Beekeeping in pottery vessels began about 9,000 years ago in North Africa. Domestication of bees is shown in Egyptian art from around 4,500 years ago.Simple hives and smoke were used and honey was stored in jars, some of which were found in the tombs of pharaohs such as Tutankhamun. It wasn’t until the 18th century that European understanding of the colonies and biology of bees allowed the construction of the movable comb hive so that honey could be harvested without destroying the entire colony.
At some point humans began to attempt to maintain colonies of wild bees in artificial hives made from hollow logs, wooden boxes, pottery vessels, and woven straw baskets or “skeps“. Traces of beeswax are found in potsherds throughout the Middle East beginning about 7000 BCE.
Honeybees were kept in Egypt from antiquity. On the walls of the sun temple of Nyuserre Ini from the Fifth Dynasty, before 2422 BCE, workers are depicted blowing smoke into hives as they are removing honeycombs. Inscriptions detailing the production of honey are found on the tomb of Pabasa from the Twenty-sixth Dynasty (c. 650 BCE), depicting pouring honey in jars and cylindrical hives.Sealed pots of honey were found in the grave goods of pharaohs such as Tutankhamun.
I am Shamash-resh-ușur, the governor of Suhu and the land of Mari. Bees that collect honey, which none of my ancestors had ever seen or brought into the land of Suhu, I brought down from the mountain of the men of Habha, and made them settle in the orchards of the town ‘Gabbari-built-it’. They collect honey and wax, and I know how to melt the honey and wax – and the gardeners know too. Whoever comes in the future, may he ask the old men of the town, (who will say) thus: “They are the buildings of Shamash-resh-ușur, the governor of Suhu, who introduced honey bees into the land of Suhu.”— text from stele, (Dalley, 2002)
In prehistoric Greece (Crete and Mycenae), there existed a system of high-status apiculture, as can be concluded from the finds of hives, smoking pots, honey extractors and other beekeeping paraphernalia in Knossos. Beekeeping was considered a highly valued industry controlled by beekeeping overseers—owners of gold rings depicting apiculture scenes rather than religious ones as they have been reinterpreted recently, contra Sir Arthur Evans.
Archaeological finds relating to beekeeping have been discovered at Rehov, a Bronze and Iron Age archaeological site in the Jordan Valley, Israel.Thirty intact hives, made of straw and unbaked clay, were discovered by archaeologist Amihai Mazar in the ruins of the city, dating from about 900 BCE. The hives were found in orderly rows, three high, in a manner that could have accommodated around 100 hives, held more than 1 million bees and had a potential annual yield of 500 kilograms of honey and 70 kilograms of beeswax, according to Mazar, and are evidence that an advanced honey industry existed in ancient Israel 3,000 years ago.
In ancient Greece, aspects of the lives of bees and beekeeping are discussed at length by Aristotle. Beekeeping was also documented by the Roman writers Virgil, Gaius Julius Hyginus, Varro, and Columella.
Beekeeping has also been practiced in ancient China since antiquity. In a book written by Fan Li (or Tao Zhu Gong) during the Spring and Autumn period there are sections describing the art of beekeeping, stressing the importance of the quality of the wooden box used and how this can affect the quality of the honey. The Chinese word for honey was borrowed from Indo-European proto-Tocharian language .
The ancient Maya domesticated a separate species of stingless bee. The use of stingless bees is referred to as meliponiculture, named after bees of the tribe Meliponini—such as Melipona quadrifasciata in Brazil. This variation of bee keeping still occurs around the world today.For instance, in Australia, the stingless bee Tetragonula carbonaria is kept for production of their honey.