(photo credit: Hebrew University)
Now it's official. The Land of Milk and Honey has lived up to its name.
A Hebrew University archeologist has uncovered the oldest known apiary, or beehive colony, in the Middle East. Prof. Amihai Mazar found the beehive colony, dating to the 10th to early 9th centuries BCE, in an archeological excavation this summer in the Beit She'an Valley.
The biblical-period beehive colony was discovered in Tel Rehov, which is believed to have been one of the Israelite kingdom's most important cities.
Three rows of beehives were found in the apiary, containing more than 30 hives, although the archeologists estimated that the total area may have contained some 100 beehives.
Beekeepers and scholars estimated that as much as half a ton of honey could be culled from these hives every year, the university said Monday.
The dating of the beehives was done by measuring the decay of the Carbon-14 isotope in organic materials, using grains of wheat found next to the beehives.
This grain was dated by a laboratory at Groningen University in the Netherlands to the period between the mid-10th century BCE until the early 9th century BCE, a time period attributed to the reign of King Solomon and the first kings of the northern Kingdom of Israel following the division of the monarchy.
Mazar said that these are the first beehives ever discovered at any site from the ancient Middle East.
He said that while ceramic vessels that served as beehives were known from the Hellenistic and Roman periods, none were found intact, and beekeeping on an industrial scale such as the apiary at Tel Rehov was hitherto unknown in the archaeological record.
Pictorial depictions of apiaries exist from Pharaonic Egypt, showing extraction of honey from stacked cylinders that are very similar to those found at Tel Rehov.
The discovery at Tel Rehov indicates that beekeeping and the extraction of bees' honey and honeycomb was a highly developed industry as early as the First Temple period, Mazar said.
Israel is referred to as the Land of Milk and Honey in the Bible 16 times, though the term is often thought to refer to the honey-like date fruit.
One well known instance of an actual honeycomb being mentioned in the Bible is in I Samuel, where Jonathan tastes honey from a honeycomb during the battle with the Philistines.
During the dig, archeologists also uncovered three ceramic storage jars found near the beehives with the inscription "To nmsh." "Nimshi" is known in the Bible as the name of the father and in several verses the grandfather of Israelite King Jehu, the founder of the dynasty that usurped power from the House of Omri (II Kings: 9-12).
The archeologists involved in the dig believe that it is possible that the discovery of three inscriptions bearing this name in the same region and dating to the same period indicates that Jehu's family originated from the Beit She'an Valley and possibly even from the large city located at Tel Rehov.
The large apiary discovered at the site might have belonged to this illustrious local clan.