History of Beekeeping
Humans have been harvesting honey from bees since prehistoric times. Rock art from caves in Europe are believed to show bees and honey. Humans eventually began keeping bees in artificial hives. Residue of beeswax has been found in pottery at widespread Middle Eastern archaeological sites which date as far back as 7,000 B.C.
Beekeeping was common in ancient Egypt. Images on the sun temple erected during the reign of Pharaoh Nyuserre Ini (2445 B.C. to 2421 B.C.) show workers harvesting honey. Egyptian beekeepers had no veils or other protective clothing. They did use smoke to pacify the bees, a tactic which is still used by beekeepers today. Sealed pots of honey were often buried with pharaohs, including King Tut.
An archaeological excavation in the Jordan Valley discovered 30 hives of clay and straw which date to 900 B.C. It is estimated these hives could have housed one million bees and produced over one thousand pounds of honey annually.
Beekeeping continued through the ages, documented by writers such as Aristotle in Greece and Virgil in ancient Rome. During the Middle Ages, monasteries often kept bees. Beeswax made excellent candles, and candles were used extensively in church services.
Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement was founded in 1607. The first shipments of European bees were not far behind, arriving early in 1622. They were also sent from England to Massachusetts in the early 1630s. By the start of the nineteenth century, bees were widespread throughout most of the United States east of the Mississippi River. Settlers stampeded to California during the 1849 Gold Rush. Shipments of bees followed in the 1850s.
Beekeepers in the United States now produce 163 million pounds of honey each year. More important is the crops that these bees pollinate. Their value was estimated at over fourteen billion dollars in a 1999 study by Cornell University.