Sunday, June 2, 2019

PreColumbian Honey Bees

We previously noted evidence that beekeeping and honey production were important economic activities in ancient Mesoamerica. See the articles "Titulo de Totonicapan" and "Komkom Vase". A scholarly article recently came to our attention that shows images of ancient Maya beehives and provides interesting details about Mesoamerican beekeeping.

Jaroslaw Zralka (Jagiellonian University, Kraków), Laura Sotelo (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), Christophe Helmke (University of Copenhagen), and Wieslaw Koszkul (Jagiellonian University, Kraków) wrote "The discovery of a beehive and the identification of apiaries among the ancient Maya" published in Latin American Antiquity 29(3) (June, 2018) pp. 514-531. The page numbers that follow are from this article.

514 A ceramic beehive was discovered in a dedicatory cache at Nakum, Peten, Guatemala by Polish archaeologists who worked the site from 2006 - 2016. The artifact dates to the late Preclassic (ca. 100 BC - AD 250/300).
Nakum, Guatemala in Context
515 Nakum was first settled in the middle Preclassic 1,000 - 700 BC.

518 A photo of the beehive fashioned in pottery to look like a hollow log with ceramic end caps made to look like mud plaster and a single bee hole.
Ancient Maya Beehive from Nakum
Now in the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Guatemala City

520 Cozumel Island was an important center of native American beekeeping and honey production at European conquest. This censer figurine from Cozumel shows a bee-like "diving god" holding honeycomb cells in his hands. Two beehives similar to the Nakum example flank the sides of the censer.
Post-classic Figurine, Drawing by Christophe Helmke
Now in Museo Palacio Cantón, Mérida
 Another figurine, also from Cozumel, shows a deity wearing a miniature beehive as a necklace.
Post-Classic Figurine, Drawing by Christophe Helmke
Now in National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City
520 The article illustrates another ancient Maya iconographic portrayal of a cylindrical beehive.

521 kaab was one of the variant names for "bee" in Mayan languages.

521 Species of stingless bees endemic to the New World include Geotrigona acapulconis, Melipona beecheii, Partamona bilineata, and Tetragonisca angustula. All 4 species were domesticated by the ancient Maya and other Mesoamericans.

521 Ceramic jars and bottle gourds were also used as beehives in ancient Mexico and Guatemala.

522 There is evidence of large-scale intensive farming of stingless bees in the Yucatan Peninsula in precolumbian times.

524 Diego de Landa (1524 - 1579) and Tomás López Medel (1520 - 1582) both described the extensive honey industry that existed among the ancient Maya at European contact.

524 The Madrid Codex discusses beekeeping on pp. 103 - 112. This section is often called the "Beekeeping Almanac."

525 Maya deities associated with beekeeping according to the Madrid Codex include Itzamnaj, Cháak, and Yax Báalam. Goddess I is depicted as a beekeeper.

525 The Mayan difrasismos or diphrastic kennings uk'-we' "drink-eat" meaning "feasting" and yax-k'an "green-yellow" or "unripe-ripe" meaning "abundance" are associated with bees and honey. This may be significant. The Book of Mormon associates honey with feasting 2 Nephi 17:22, 2 Nephi 26:25 in the sense of a land flowing with milk and honey. Honey is explicitly associated with the abundance of land Bountiful 1 Nephi 17:5 which in the Spanish edition of the Book of Mormon is called "Abundancia."
Difrasismo for Abundance, Madrid Codex, p. 110 Middle Register
526 The Madrid Codex, generally dated ca. AD 1450, depicts many bees with cylindrical beehives that resemble the Nakum example.
Bee Image from Madrid Codex, p. 103
527 In Mayan languages, the same word means "bee" and "honey." The Book of Mormon explicitly uses the term "honey bee" Ether 2:3.

Bees, honey, and beekeeping are mentioned in the Book of Mormon in both Jaredite and Nephite contexts. Bees, honey, and beekeeping are now attested archaeologically in the Peten at Nakum during Nephite times. Nakum was originally settled in the Jaredite era.

This is an image of bees flying out of a ceramic container.
K2284 Rollout Photograph by Justin Kerr
Contemporary Native Americians in Campeche are known to use similar ceramic jars as beehives.