The oldest pictures of bee-keepers in action are from the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt. In Niuserre’s sun temple bee-keepers are blowing smoke into hives as they are removing the honey-combs. After extracting the honey from the combs it was strained and poured into earthen jars which were then sealed. Honey treated in this manner could be kept years. From the New Kingdom on, mentions of honey and depictions of its production become more frequent.
Bee-keeping methods are conservative in this region, well adapted to local conditions, for instance the kind of hives shown in these ancient reliefs, apparently woven baskets covered with clay, are still seen in the Sudan today.
The main centre of bee-keeping was Lower Egypt with its extensive cultivated lands, where the bee was chosen as a symbol for the country. One of Pharaoh’s titles was Bee King, and the gods also were associated with the bee. The sanctuary in which Osiris was worshiped was the Hwt bjt, the Mansion of the Bee.
There were itinerant apiarists in the Faiyum in Ptolemaic times using donkeys to transport their hives and possibly also beekeepers living by the Nile who loaded their hives onto boats, shipped them upriver in early spring, and then followed the flowering of the plants northwards as they were reported to do in the 19th century CE.
The Egyptians had a steady honey supply from their domesticated bees, but they seem to have valued wild honey even more. Honey hunters, often protected by royal archers, would scour the wild wadis for bee colonies.
I appointed for thee archers and collectors of honey, bearing incense to deliver their yearly impost into thy august treasury.