Have you ever wondered about the history behind honey? Like, why did we start keeping bees in the first place? And how long have we had a legit love affair with honey? Welcome to Honey History 101.
Humans have been enjoying honey for thousands of years. Seriously. The first evidence of humans gathering wild honey comes from a cave painting in Spain, which is estimated to be anywhere between 8,000 and 15,000 years old! Back then, early humans would perilously gather the honeycomb from wild bees—check out The Last Honey Hunter for a little taste of what that is like—but they eventually wanted easier access to the good stuff.
That’s why, around 9,000 years ago, humans started building hives for bees and pursuing beekeeping.
Of course, man-made hives weren’t always the organized, box systems they are today—that game-changing design was invented in 1851. Throughout the ages, traditional hives were made out of hollow logs, old stumps, woven grasses, clay pots, cylindrical tubes, old barrels, and even dried gourds to replicate natural hive environments.
Once humans knew what types of structures attracted bees, beekeeping flourished across the globe. In fact, it truly thrived in the regions of ancient Mesopotamia and northern Africa. The remains of the earliest discovered apiary were found in Israel and date all the way back to 10 BCE. According to archeologists, anywhere between 30 to 100 precious clay pot hives were placed in the very center of the ancient city, the hives being too valuable to be kept on the outskirts. It must have been wild—imagine hundreds and hundreds of bees casually buzzing in the center of a bustling city!
But early beekeeping wasn’t easy, so why did our ancestors go to such lengths to keep bees and harvest honey? Well, through the ages, humans have discovered some pretty incredible uses for this sweet, golden substance. Here are 4 major players…
Move over, grapes! The first form of wine was actually honey wine, or mead. The first physical evidence of honey wine in human history comes from Ancient Chinese distilling remnants from over 11,000 years ago. But it wasn’t just the Chinese who were brewing the sweet stuff. Throughout history, honey wine appears in many established cultures, from the tribes of the African bush to the majority of Europe. Deemed ambrosia or ‘nectar of the gods’ by the Greeks, it was often used as an offering to deities, thanks to its heavenly sweetness.
In ancient times, honey was renown as one of the world’s most powerful natural medicines. The Ancient Chinese used honey to promote overall wellbeing and support balanced digestion. The Greeks, especially Hippocrates, recommended honey to help clean and heal wounds. The ancient Egyptians used honey in the majority of their prescriptions, from soothing sores to easing conjunctivitis, according to medical texts like Ebers Papyrus and Smith Papyrus. In fact, out of 900 known ancient Egyptian healing formulations, honey appears in over 500 of them. It was considered that powerful.
The ancient Egyptians obsessed over all the hive superfoods, especially honey. Cleopatra regularly indulged in moisturizing milk and honey baths and used honey as a facial treatment. Throughout history, honey was used time and again to help treat burns, cuts, rashes, acne, dry skin, and more. It is the original nourishing skin food.
Roman physicians actually prescribed a little honey before bed to help patients fall asleep way back in 500 BCE. Fast forward to modern day, and biohacker Tim Ferriss is actually making the same recommendation! Honey actually helps the body improve melatonin production, a hormone which helps you snooze more soundly, so the Romans totally knew what was up. Pretty impressive for 2,500 years ago, right?
Ever since that first human stumbled upon the sweet contents of an abandoned beehive thousands of years ago, humans and honey have totally gone hand in hand. So, in homage to our early ancestors, grab a jar of liquid gold and thank the heavens that you don’t have to harvest it from wild hives all by yourself!