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Friday 9th December

Topic: Bees and beeswax

Chair: Zara Shoosmith

This week Birmingham Egyptology discussed the role of bees, beeswax and honey in ancient Egypt. We began with a brief history of apiculture with reference to the earliest known representation of humans interacting with bees, as seen in the Cuevas de la Araña in Spain. We then discussed the possibility of early apiculture in the Near East. This focussed on an examination of the bronze artefacts, possibly created through lost-wax casting, of the Nahal Mishmar hoard from Israel.

The group discussed evidence for apiculture in ancient Egypt including representations of beekeeping from the tombs of Pasaba, Rekhmire and Nyuserre Ini. We also debated the nature of the honeybee hieroglyph, the accuracy of its depiction and the possible reasons for the symbol’s connection to Lower Egypt.

Discussion then moved to the properties of beeswax and the ways in which this may have influenced the symbolism given to bees, wax and honey. We debated possible symbolic connections between bees and the gods Re, Min, Nut and Neith, examining evidence from the Pyramid Texts and the Book of the Dead. There was also discussion about the reputation of bees in ancient Egypt in which it was raised that there appears to be no negative representations of bees.

We then examined the uses of wax and honey in artefacts including in lost-wax cast metal objects, encaustic paintings and figurines. The group discussed how a symbolically important material such as wax could also be used in day to life and debated wax’s use in the possible waterproofing of boats.

The session ended with a brief examination of textual evidence for bees, wax and honey in Egyptian magic. This included discussion on the wax crocodile of Webaoner from papyrus Westcar and the wax figurines described as part of the harem conspiracy in papyrus Rollin and papyrus Lee.

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