Back in 2012, Campbell’s blog post Beekeeping in ancient Egypt and today mentioned that we hoped that the Museum would soon have its own beehive – and now it does!
Keen eyed visitors to our Ancient Worlds galleries may have spotted the inscriptions of bees on display but we also now have a rooftop hive.
In fact we’ve just come to the end of the season for beekeeping for 2014. We’ve put them to bed for the winter.
The bees worked really hard to produce 3 supers (one of the boxes that hold the honeycombs in the hive) of honey.
Their numbers will reduce, though a core group will remain. Gathering round the queen fanning with their wings to regulate the temperature for the queen. We extracted the honey and have left one super with them to see them through the winter months.
Checking on the bees earlier this year
Pollen laden bees return to the hive
Spinning the honeycombs to extract honey
The winter can be a tough time for bees so it’s the honey will be needed to fuel this activity as they can’t forage during winter. Hopefully this honey will see them through until the more clement weather in the spring.
The honey they have produced is a delicious and citrusy crop flavoured by the foraging from the lime trees across campus.
While we haven’t yet had enough honey to share widely it’s been a really good year for our bees, we have seen the arrival of a new queen and the colony has grown and gone from strength to strength.
We’re hoping for a short and mild winter to give them a good start for the new year.
One of the Museum’s two objectives is ‘Working towards a sustainable world’ which is a big part of why we support the bees as they’re essential to the pollination process and a healthy environment.
Ours is one of a number of hives across the Manchester Partnership. Manchester Art Gallery have two, we have one and the Whitworth is set to join the fun in March 2015 – following the opening.
While we don’t have enough honey to sell this year you can still win some by suggesting a name (with a link to Manchester Museum and our collections) via our Facebook or Twitter by this Sunday
Sam, Sally & Steve
(with thanks to Campbell)
Acc. no. 296. © Paul Cliff
The Manchester Museum contains an intriguing object numbered 296. At 38cm long and 7.8cm in diameter, at first sight it looks like a thin pottery vessel, open at one end and with a small hole at the other. Were it not for the chance discovery of a dead bee inside (and traces of pollen), the function of this object may have gone unrecognised as an ancient Egyptian beehive.
The ancient Egyptians were extremely fond of honey, which they used to sweeten cakes and beer. Beekeeping is most famously depicted in the Theban tomb of Pabasa (TT279), an official during the 26th Dynasty (c. 650 BC). The practice of using large numbers of pottery cylinders of roughly the same design continues today. Acc. no. 296 is a fine example of an object that attests a practice that we know must have taken place, but which is only hinted at in textual sources or fleetingly represented in tomb scenes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it originates from Petrie’s excavations at the Middle Kingdom town of Kahun, which has furnished us with so much detail about life in ancient Egypt.
Beekeeping shown in the tomb of Pabasa
Colleagues at the ManchesterMuseum, Whitworth Art Gallery and Manchester Art Gallery have recently participated in a training course to learn the ancient art of beekeeping. A nasty mite called Varroa has wiped out large numbers of bee colonies in the UK, leading to calls for action to ‘save the bees’. Learning beekeeping is one very important contribution to sustain bee populations, which are vital for the pollination of plants – and therefore the production of crops. It is hoped that the Museum will soon have its own beehive, with honey to sell in our shop. Who knows, we may soon also be producing ancient Egyptian sweets!