(photo credit: Hebrew University)
Although Turkey is currently in the dog house for many Israelis because of its
involvement in the violent Mavi Marmara flotilla incident, during biblical times
the Israelites imported bees from Turkey for the industrial production of honey
in the Beit She’an Valley, according to a new archeological discovery by
researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The team, headed by
HU archeology Prof. Amihai Mazar, found a total of 30 intact hives in the ruins
of the city of Tel Rehov, dating back to 900 BCE, as well as evidence that there
had been 100-200 hives made of straw and unbaked clay.
ago, the joint Israelite-Canaanite settlement had 2,000 residents.
hives, lined up in an orderly way, may be the earliest complete beehives ever
discovered and offer a glimpse of ancient beekeeping during biblical
The team of archeologists and biologists was surprised that bee
remnants had been found in an urban setting.
The existence of cultivated
bees in the center of the city was especially odd, as bees usually get angry
when the hive is opened to remove honey, and could have stung
After the conclusion of the dig in 2007, the bee remnants were
sent by Mazar – who received the Israel Prize in archeology last year – to Prof. Guy Bloch, an expert in the behavior and evolution of bees in the
university’s department of evolution, systematics and ecology.
conducted a study in which he found clear evidence that the beehives were
ancient and had turned into carbon due to the passage of millennia. Their
external structure was very rigid, but remnants of bee larvae and pupae
enveloped a soft body.
About 17 remnants of wings and dozens of legs were
also found. The results of the study were published this month in the journal
PNAS (Proceedings of the [UN] National Academy of Science).
from experts in Germany and Brazil, the researchers sought to identify the bee
species. To their surprise, the bees were determined to have been different from
the local Syrian species, which was prevalent in biblical times in the Land of
Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. They were also different from Egyptian bees,
which were in the South, and from the Persian bee, which was prevalent in the
North and Northeast.
The HU researchers and their foreign colleagues
concluded that the species found in the Beit She’an Valley was similar to the
Anatalyan bee, found in central Turkey. Thus, the question became: How did these
bees reach the Land of Israel? One possible explanation is that the distribution
of bee varieties 3,000 years ago was different than it is today, even though the
researchers found no scientific evidence of this. The other explanation is that
the Tel Rehov beekeepers imported their bees from elsewhere in the Mediterranean
Syrian bees are aggressive and irascible, said Bloch.
it would have been difficult to keep them within a dense urban area. The
Anatalyan bee, which produces five to eight times more honey, is less
aggressive, making it possible to raise them in an urban setting.
Beit She’an Valley digs also showed evidence of widespread commerce with
in the eastern Mediterranean, as well as techniques for transferring
large pottery vases or portable hives. An Assyrian stamp from the 8th
BCE provided evidence that the bees had been brought 400 km. south from
Taurus Mountains in southern Turkey – a distance that was just slightly
than that between Taurus and Tel Rehov. Thus, the import of “docile”
apparently was a solution for the beekeepers of the Land of Israel.
attempts to raise local bees for the production of honey resulted in
stinging, the Turkish bees were apparently the solution, Bloch said. He
concluded that while it had long been believed that a “land flowing with
and honey” referred to date honey, the fact that there was a commercial-
honeybee industry in urban areas here showed the financial importance of
beekeeping during the biblical period.