Oldest ever evidence of HONEY is discovered in 3,500-year-old pottery shards

People living in West Africa 3,500 years ago were hunting wild bee hives for their honey and storing it in pots, scientists have discovered. 

Beeswax residue was found intact on recently excavated shards of pottery from the Nok people of Nigeria — the oldest evidence of honey hunting ever found.  

Pottery fragments reveal beeswax was stored by more than three millennia ago and it may have used it as food, medicine or to sweeten drinks, including beer and wine.  

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Pictured, excavated Nok vessels are cleaned and photographed at the Janjala research station by Dr Gabriele Franke of Goethe University

In parts of Africa today, honey is collected from wild bee nests which can be found in natural hollows in tree trunks and on the underside of thick branches. Pictured, a  local forager brings freshly collected honeybee comb to the archaeological dig at Ifana

In parts of Africa today, honey is collected from wild bee nests which can be found in natural hollows in tree trunks and on the underside of thick branches. Pictured, a  local forager brings freshly collected honeybee comb to the archaeological dig at Ifana

How was honey used? 

One third of the pottery vessels used by the ancient Nok people were used to process or store beeswax, researchers found.

They also believe the beeswax was made by either melting wax combs or from the storage of honey itself.  

But the scientists also say the honey may have been used to make honey-based drinks — including wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages — or for medicinal, cosmetic and technological purposes. 

For example, other archaeological sites have found evidence of beeswax being used as a sealant and as fuel for primitive lamps and candles. 

Exactly how long humans have been seeking out honey remains unknown but experts suspect people have been consuming honey for a long time. 

Researchers from the University of Bristol analysed more than 450 pieces of pottery from the Central Nigerian Nok culture to investigate what goods they held.

The Nok people are known for their remarkable large-scale terracotta figurines and early iron production in West Africa, around the first millennium BC.  

One third of the pottery vessels used by the ancient Nok people were used to process or store beeswax, researchers found.

They also believe the beeswax was made by either melting wax combs or from the storage of honey itself. 

But the scientists also say the honey may have been used to make honey-based drinks — including wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages — or for medicinal, cosmetic and technological purposes. 

For example, other archaeological sites have found evidence of beeswax being used as a sealant and as fuel for primitive lamps and candles. 

Lead author, Dr Julie Dunne from the University of Bristol, said: ‘This is a remarkable example of how biomolecular information extracted from prehistoric pottery, combined with ethnographic data, has provided the first insights into ancient honey hunting in West Africa, 3,500 years ago.’ 

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