Egyptian Honey

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July 31, 2017 by jhoffdog

beekeeperby Hannah McMillan for Wyck Association

Humans have been using bee products for over 9,000 years! One key insight into honey’s past comes from Egypt.  In the tombs of pharaohs, perfectible edible honey dating back 3,000 years[1] is found. Hieroglyphics depict early bee-keeping methods, and ritualistic uses for honey.  Honey played a huge role in Egyptian society; it was a daily part of the pharaohs’ lives, used in religious rituals, used in most Egyptian medicines, and contributed to the economy through commerce.[2]    It became a vital part of Egyptian life and almost played a role in every cultural aspect.

How then was beekeeping practiced in ancient Egypt when the demand must have been so high?  Hieroglyphs show beekeepers blowing smoke into hives as they remove honey combs, they strained the honey and put it in earthen jars that were then sealed.  A description of hives is found in a 4th century BCE papyrus, “One does not build a royal palace for the honey bee.  A hive of dung is better than a hive of stone… the house of the bee is effectively an arrangement of combs, a place suitable for storing honey… it is more pleasant for the bees beneath the combs.”[3]  Harvesters would approach the hives with shaven heads as the perfumed oil agitated the bees, and would rely on smoke to calm them enough to harvest the honey.

Bees were apart of many tales concerning Egyptian gods, one of the pharaoh’s titles was the “Bee King”, and even images of bees could be found next to a pharaoh’s name.

According to Egyptian mythology, bees were created when the sun god, Ra’s tears fell to the earth then worked in every flower and tree to create honey and wax.[4]  Next time you use honey in your tea think of it as drinking some of Ra’s many tears.

[1] “Honey In The Pyramids.” National Geographic. N.p., 22 Nov. 2015. Web. <http://www.nationalgeographic.com.au/history/honey-in-the-pyramids.aspx>.

[2] “Home.” Benefits of Honey. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.honey-health.com/honey-egypt/>.

[3] “Bee-keeping.” Ancient Egypt: Bee-keeping. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/timelines/topics/beekeeping.htm#rem32>.

[4] Living on Earth / World Media Foundation / Public Radio International. “The Beekeepers of Ancient Egypt.” Living on Earth. N.p., 12 Nov. 2015. Web. <http://www.loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=15-P13-00046&segmentID=7>.

 

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