First Bee Keepers
Amihai Mazar, Eleazar L. Sukenik Professor of Archaeology at the Hebrew University, revealed that the first apiary (beehive colony) dating from the Biblical period has been found in excavations he directed this summer at Tel Rehov in Israel's Beth Shean Valley. This is the earliest apiary to be revealed to date in an archaeological excavation anywhere in the ancient Near East, said Prof. Mazar. It dates from the 10th to early 9th centuries B.C.E.
It is estimated, however, based on excavations to date, that in all the total area would have contained some 100 beehives. Experienced beekeepers and scholars who visited the site estimated that as much as half a ton of honey could be culled each year from these hives.
Prof. Mazar emphasizes the uniqueness of this latest find by pointing out that actual beehives have never been discovered at any site in the ancient Near East. While fired ceramic vessels that served as beehives are known in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, none were found in situ, and beekeeping on an industrial level such as the apiary at Tel Rehov is hitherto unknown in the archaeological record. Pictorial depictions of apiaries are known from Pharaonic Egypt, showing extraction of honey from stacked cylinders which are very similar to those found at Tel Rehov.
A particularly fascinating find at the site is an inscription on a ceramic storage jar found near the beehives that reads "To nmsh". This name was also found inscribed on another storage jar from a slightly later occupation level at Tel Rehov, dated to the time of the Omride Dynasty in the 9th century BCE. Moreover, this same name was found on a contemporary jar from nearby Tel Amal, situated in the Gan HaShelosha National Park (Sachne).
The name "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 Omrides (II Kings: 9-12). 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 Beth Shean 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.
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