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The First Direct Chemical Evidence for Honeybee Product Exploitation in West Africa

There are several groups in Africa, such as the Efe foragers of the Ituri Forest, Eastern DRC, who have historically relied on honey as their main source of food. They collect all parts of the hive, including honey, pollen and bee larvae, from tree hollows which can be up to 30 metres from the ground, using smoke to distract the stinging bees. Honey may also have been used as a preservative to store other products. Among the Okiek people of Kenya, who rely on the trapping and hunting of a wide variety of game, smoked meat is sometimes preserved with honey, being kept for up to three years. A number of the Nok pots did contain biomarkers suggesting the presence of both beeswax and meat products. As well as using honey as a food source, it may have been used to make honey-based drinks, wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages, which are commonplace across Africa today. The writings of ancient explorers provide insights into the antiquity of these practices. For example, Ibn Battuta, the Muslim Berber scholar and explorer, while visiting Mauritania in 1352, told of a sour drink made from ground millet mixed with honey and sour milk. A further account of the preparation of wine from honey is found in a record of a Portuguese visit to the west coast of Africa (1506-1510).