Watching the honeybee is like experiencing firsthand infinity. For no sooner than we have come to understand some marvelous aspect of her, than we discover more questions and answers.
The oldest known depiction of humans and bees interacting date back to cave paintings discovered in Spider Cave near Valencia, Spain. Here is a painting of what appears to be a completely unprotected person, reaching into a hive in a tree, foraging honey. She holds a vessel, or perhaps a smoker. Around her the bees fly in the air. Eight thousand years ago people knew bees and created art to record their experience.
Cultivation may have started around four thousand years ago in Persia. The Greeks were cultivating bees during the time of Aristotle almost twenty four hundred years ago. He refers to bees as one of the agricultural activities at the time. Aristotle seemed to know bees well. in The Politic, he use their social behaviour as evidence to his argument that social structure is a natural phenomenon. This has profound philosophical and practical implications. If there truly is a natural origin to social behaviour, then we would do well to understand it. Social physics may constrain the creativity of man in the application of social ideas of human origin. It points to an existence of truth in social organization. Aristotle proceeds to outlay what he views as natural social structure in humans. At the center, he places the family, with a man, a woman, and children. His conviction to this ideal can be tied to this notion of natural social structure and the honeybee.
Virgil was writing poetry about bees over two thousand years ago. He also compares the organizational and social behaviours of bees to humans, and observes some apparent troubling deficiencies. These deficiencies remain today, and present themselves to anyone who takes the time to look beyond the superficial harmony at the sacrifices of the individuals. European paintings can be found since depicting clothing worn, and old skep basket hives. Bees are even found in religious symbology and architecture. An omen of prosperity, the relationship between bees and flowers and man was felt, if not rationally understood.
It is truly awe inspiring to think of eight thousand years of collective enchantment of man with the honeybee. The parallels to our own life. The unraveling of the sophistication of their social organization. All of these experiences, and the all of the scientific knowledge gained collectively over millennia ignites the imagination. And yet, each year, some important new discovery is made. Is there no end to the sophistication and intricacy of these creatures. It make you marvel, if we cannot understand the simple honeybee in eight thousand years, how many years are necessary to understand our own human society?
These observations we experience as we watch our bee in the flowers, our most common encounter with these creatures. But the bee cannot be fully understood in the flowers alone. We must follow them home. Our discovery is a journey without end.