Watch and Review – Dr Gil Stein | Sweet Honey in the Rocks: Bees, Beekeeping and Honey in the Ancient Near East (2016)

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Tomb of Rekhmire, showing bee-hives | Wikimedia Commons | Public Domain

The talk can be accessed from the Oriental Institutes YouTube page here

Stein’s talk had the aim of filling a gap in the knowledge of the Near East and Egypt, as honey is the most cited ingredient in ancient medical texts, but little has been written about bees and beekeeping. His talk was split into three-parts: brief history of beekeeping and bee’s anatomy, literary sources for bees, and archaeological evidence for bees.

His discussion of the medical properties of honey is interesting as he shows that as well as ancient people knowing about these properties, they also had worked out the correct proportions for best use in medicines.

Collection of wild honey has been shown to have been done far done in the prehistoric period, but the Egyptians were the first people to domestic bees for honey production. Stein shows a series of painting that show domestic bees. The first, from the 5th Dynasty Sun Temple of Nauserre, shows stacks of cylindrical hives and the packing of the honey. The second is an actual hive from the 13th dynasty found at Kahun. The last is from the Tomb of Rekhmire and shows the use of smoke to stun bees.

Due to the infancy of the topic it is hard to comment on whether there are flaws in his argument, but he presented his research convincingly and laid out all the facts in a way that was digestible by everyone.

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