Friday, September 12, 2008

Humans and Honeybees: a long history of cooperation

Did you know that humans and honeybees have been working together for thousands of years?

In 1934 images were found in a limestone cave in Spain depicting humans honey-hunting. This is the first painting discovered in Europe that illustrates humans collecting honey. The image shows a human hanging on ropes suspended over a cliff-face. The human is reaching into a nest of bees taking honeycombs while individual bees swarm around. Another figure stands below holding a bag with a long handle where the honey is collected. It is estimated that this painting was made between 2000 and 8000 years ago.

Bee-keeping is depicted in Egyptian temple reliefs as early as the 5th Dynasty (2445-2441 BC). The reliefs show that beekeeping was well established in Egypt by the middle of the Old Kingdom (3rd millennium BC). Records from at least one tomb workers' village during the New Kingdom (1550-1069 BC) indicate that the workmen there kept bees and this was likely true of other communities throughout Egyptian history. Bee-keeping is also depicted in some 18th and 26th Dynasty tombs. Bees were certainly of great importance in providing honey, which was used both as the principal sweetener in the Egyptian diet and as a base for medicinal ointments. The Egyptians also collected beeswax for use as a mold-former in metal castings and also for use as a paint-varnish. Read the book Sweetness & Light by Hattie Ellis for more fascinating history of the relationship between humans and bees.

As humans focused more on development and less on the environment, suburban sprawl has destroyed many of the natural habitats of bees. It seems like it might be a good time to think about giving back some of the living spaces we took away to bees again. I looked into ways that people with very small amount of land can provide living space for bees. I was glad to find that it is very simple and doesn't end up with someone having swarms of bees taking over their yard! The National Wildlife Federation has some tips on how to build bee houses here.

You can create homes for Orchard Mason Bees who are very helpful in pollinating plants. Ochard Mason bees are not aggressive and rarely sting, so they are safe to keep in your back yard, or porch, or outside your window, if you don't have a yard. You can also create houses for bumble bees, which are native to North America and very important pollinators. I found a site by Dave Pehling that gives simple instructions on creating a bumble bee house, but you can search for other sites quite easily that give instructions on how to make houses for them. If you are not handy at all, there are also sites on line where you can purchase pre-made bee homes.

In the spring I will be setting out both Orchard Mason Bee and Bumblebee homes and I will be sure to share the results with you then. Please consider continuing the long-standing relationship between humans and bees by creating a home for them. After all, it seems like it is the least we can do after taking away so much of their natural habitat. The plus is that we can live together and share the benefits from each other as a result!

If you find this interesting and would like to learn more about the honeybee and other teachings from nature, please consider donating to DoAn Art. I am currently raising money to attend a residency at the Vermont Studio Center where I can synthesize this kind of information into artwork to share with society. It is my hope that by sharing my teachings and paintings from nature, I might help inspire others to seek ways to make our world and all the beings on it a beautiful place to live.

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DoAn Art is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the purposes of DoAn Art must be made payable to Fractured Atlas and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. 

All artwork and text © Copyright 2005-2011 DoAn Art (Antony Galbraith) unless indicated otherwise. All Rights Reserved. Any downloading, copying or use of images on this website is strictly prohibited without express written consent by Antony Galbraith.


Unknown said...

That's a beautiful work of art, DoAn. I hope you raise the money you need for the residency!

To the bees,


Antony Galbraith said...

Thanks Ivan for the kind compliment!
So far the fundraising is going well. I have month to go...and the goal is still a possibility!

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