Candy History: Honey Pt. 1

Mesolithic cave drawing from Arana, Spain Pic ganked from the book by Eva Crane, The World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting

For me, part of the difficulty in writing about history is that at some point, dates start to become an abstraction. I know a thousand years is a big deal because life in 1010 AD is a much different beast than life in 2010 AD. But the further back I go, the more difficult it is to appreciate that difference. In my mind, I have an abstract belief that 6000 BC is nearly identical to 5000 BC, even though I logically know this cannot be. (There’s also the difficulty in wrapping my head around the idea the 0 AD is a culturally imposed line-in-the-sand that actually bears little to no influence on the course of history. But that’s a different and much longer post.)

I point this dissonance out, because there are things/people/events that occur in history that discernibly alter societies and cultures, making life much different than the way it was before. One of the events that occurred between 6000 BC and 5000 BC that’s a pretty big deal was the emergence of urban societies – AKA “cities”.

To a lesser extent, another event that occurred was the “domestication” of the honeybee.

Think about what life must have been life before honey could be farmed (which is essentially what domesticating honeybees boils down to). To get the sweetener, it would have to had been gathered in the wild. The value of honey was never lost upon its hunters and gatherers. The mere presence of cave paintings that detail honey collection that are dated prior to 6000 BC and found throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa is proof of that. Both the comb and the honey would have been valued, and likely used in ways that would seem familiar to us in many ways, and unfamiliar in quite a few others.

Sometime between 6000 BC and 5500 BC, someone, likely in lower Egypt, figured out a way to capture and contain bees. Alan Davidson, in his book The Oxford Companion to Food writes “The oldest written reference to the use of honey is thought to be Egyptian, of about 5500BC. At that time Lower Egypt was called Bee Land while Upper Egypt was Reed Land.” But written evidence is circumstantial at best, and all we can do is theorize when and how it occurred.

Think about the cultural shift that must have occurred at the introduction of this new innovation. No longer did one have to seek out honey from hives found in multiple locations. Instead a person could have a collection of hives in one specific location. Additionally, the benefits of having bees next to an agricultural area would have been noted rather quickly, and several types of crops would have seen increased yields thanks to the bees need to pollinate. Farming would have been notably different after the introduction of local bee hives.

But from my point of view – that of a person interested in the history of candy – what I find interesting is the increased availability of a sweetener, one that has multiple uses. The next few posts I hope to address exactly how they influenced what you find non the shelves on the drug stores and mini-markets today.