A colony generally contains one breeding female, or queen; a few thousand males, or drones; and a large population of sterile female worker bees. The population of a healthy hive in mid-summer can average between 40,000 and 80,000 bees. The workers cooperate to find food and use a pattern of dancing to communicate with each other.
Honey collection is an ancient activity. Humans apparently began hunting for honey at least 10,000 years ago, as evidenced by a cave painting in Valencia, Spain. The painting is a Mesolithic rock painting, showing two female honey-hunters collecting honey and honeycomb from a wild bee nest. The two women are depicted in the nude, carrying baskets, and using a long, wobbly ladder to reach the wild nest.
In ancient Egypt, honey was used to sweeten cakes and biscuits, and was used in many other dishes. Ancient Egyptian and Middle Eastern peoples also used honey for embalming the dead. Pliny the Elder devotes considerable space in his book Naturalis Historia to the bee and honey, and its many uses. The fertility god of Egypt, Min, was offered honey.
The art of beekeeping appeared in ancient China for a long time and hardly traceable to its origin. In the book "Golden Rules of Business Success" written by Fan Li (or Tao Zhu Gong) during the Spring and Autumn Period, there are some parts mentioning the art of beekeeping and the importance of the quality of the wooden box for bee keeping that can affect the quality of its honey.
Honey was also cultivated in ancient Mesoamerica. The Maya used honey from the stingless bee for culinary purposes, and continue to do so today. The Maya also regard the bee as sacred (see Mayan stingless bees of Central America).
Some cultures believed honey had many practical health uses. It was used as an ointment for rashes and burns, and to help soothe sore throats when no other medicinal practices were available.
In Hinduism, honey (Madhu) is one of the five elixirs of immortality (Panchamrita). In temples, honey is poured over the deities in a ritual called Madhu abhisheka. The Vedas and other ancient literature mention the use of honey as a great medicinal and health food.
In Jewish tradition, honey is a symbol for the new year, Rosh Hashanah. At the traditional meal for that holiday, apple slices are dipped in honey and eaten to bring a sweet new year. Some Rosh Hashanah greetings show honey and an apple, symbolizing the feast. In some congregations, small straws of honey are given out to usher in the new year.
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