How Ancient Beekeepers Made Israel the Land of (Milk and) Honey: Imported Bees

By Andrew Moseman | June 8, 2010 9:19 am

honeybeeIt took Turkish bees to make Israel flow with milk and honey.

When archaeologist Amihai Mazar and colleagues turned up 3,000-year-old remains of hundreds of preserved beehives from the ancient town of Tel Rehov in 2007, it was the first confirmation of the ancient beekeeping suggested by Egyptian paintings and Biblical references. Now, three years later, the team has published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences with the analysis of the “honeybee workers, drones, pupae, and larvae” found inside those hives. Surprise—they’re from Turkey, hundreds of miles away.

The findings “would imply an incredible amount of commodity trading of bees,” said bee expert Gene Kritsky of the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, editor of American Entomologist. The importation of Italian bees to the United States in the 1860s “was thought to be a big deal then,” he said, “but the Israelis may have been doing this as far back as the first millennium BC” [Los Angeles Times].

Why go to all the trouble? The Syrian bees native to Israel are aggressive and uncooperative. The Turkish bees, by contrast, are more docile and much more efficient at honey-making: They produce eight times as much.

This ancient trade shows those beekeepers back then were skilled: Not only did they manage to move bee colonies across hundreds of miles of bouncy ancient roads, they also adapted Turkish bees to the hotter and drier climate of Israel. And the finding shows that modern beekeeping in Israel is just a little bit of history repeating:

In fact, “Jewish settlers in Israel in the 1900s may have unwittingly followed in the footsteps of the ancient bee-keepers of Tel Rehov,” says Bloch. When they arrived in Israel, they attempted to farm Syrian bees – but failed and had to resort to importing the less aggressive Turkish strains [New Scientist].

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Image: flickr / cygnus921

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Origins, Living World
  • Sana

    “The Syrian bees native to Israel are aggressive and uncooperative. The Turkish bees, by contrast, are more docile and much more efficient at honey-making: They produce eight times as much.”

    No wonder even the Israeli bees are “aggressive and uncooperative” LOL

  • http://www.newgracetarboro.com Michael

    This really helped me to understand Isaiah 7:15-22 “Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings…and it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD shall hiss for the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. And they shall come, and shall rest all of them in the desolate valleys, and in the holes of the rocks, and upon all thorns, and upon all bushes…And it shall come to pass in that day, that a man shall nourish a young cow, and two sheep; and it shall come to pass, for the abundance of milk that they shall give he shall eat butter: for butter and honey shall every one eat that is left in the land.”
    I think that this, too, is an explanation for the abundance of honey in the land. It is another fitting description of the times of Jesus Christ that proves His existence. It is important to remember that historically, the land WAS desolate for a time, and as a result, the product of honey began to increase as did the overabundance of milk that curdled and was used for butter.

  • Doug

    Sana Says:
    “No wonder even the Israeli bees are “aggressive and uncooperative” LOL”

    Sana, you are brilliant!

  • http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com Alice C. Linsley

    It actually says it is the Syrian bees living in Israel that are aggressive and uncooperative.

  • http://www.loncho.com Edgar Cropsey

    Hi there just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The text in your article seem to be running off the screen in Ie. I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do with web browser compatibility but I figured I’d post to let you know. The design and style look great though! Hope you get the issue solved soon. Cheers

  • Sam Gelman

    It’s date honey the text is referring to, not bee honey.

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