Maya Beekeeping Tools Used To Harvest Sacred Honey Centuries Ago Have Been Unearthed In The Yucatán

Published May 23, 2024

For centuries, Maya populations living in the jungles of Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula harvested sacred honey that served as the backbone of much of their trade, medicine, and religious rituals.

Maya Beekeeping Lid

Instituto Nacional de Antropología e HistoriaA Maya lid used to plug a hollow log where bees were housed in order to collect honey.

Just this week, archaeologists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) announced the discovery of a treasure trove of centuries-old Maya artifacts, including beekeeping tools used to harvest honey from the culture’s “sacred bee,” the Melipona beecheii.

Discovered on the eastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in southeastern Mexico, these artifacts underline the importance of Melipona honey to the Maya.

Currently, researchers have collected hundreds of artifacts and are in the process of analyzing each one to paint a better picture of Maya culture.

The Discovery Of Maya Beekeeping Tools In The Yucatán

On May 20, archaeologists from INAH announced their discovery of a cache of Maya beekeeping tools near the Quintana Roo section of the Maya Train in the Yucatán Peninsula.

Originally, the team believed they’d stumbled upon the remains of a wall, but their discovery of jobón lids convinced them that they were instead looking at a meliponary, a site of honey cultivation. Jobón were hollowed-out logs that housed bees and they were capped with limestone lids known as panuchos.

Maya Shell Bead

Instituto Nacional de Antropología e HistoriaA star-shaped shell bead found at the site.

These jobón lids measured between 20 and 25 centimeters and dated to the Maya Postclassic Period (950-1539 C.E.).

“Only one of the lids is in a good state of conservation,” Carlos Fidel Martínez said in a statement from INAH, but “the other two [lids] have a high degree of erosion.”

In addition to the lids, researchers discovered ceramic, stone, and flint artifacts, including a red and orange cajete, or vase, as well as an axe, a hammer, and a star-shaped shell bead.

Overall, researchers have found 261 artifacts at the site and are in the process of analyzing each one.

The Maya Cultivation Of Melipona Beecheii Bees

Melipona Beecheii

Government of MexicoThe Melipona beecheii, the variety of bee that the Maya cultivated.

The cultivation of bees is a traditional practice in Maya culture. For centuries before Maya civilization as we know it all but disappeared, they harvested honey. Even today, Indigenous Maya in the Yucatán continue to use jobón to cultivate honey from the Melipona beecheii species of bee.

The Melipona beecheii is the Maya’s “sacred bee.” The Maya used its honey for trade, medicine, ceremonies, and food.

Melipona honey is slightly sour and less viscous than other types of honey. Today, Melipona honey is consumed for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Indigenous Beekeeper

Mark VialesAn Indigenous beekeeper extracts honey from a jobón, a hollow log.

According to archaeologist Raquel Liliana Hernández Estrada from INAH, the area where archaeologists discovered these artifacts was not inhabited by the elite class. Instead, Maya of the non-elite classes likely powered the cultivation of this important commodity.

“Most likely, we are in the presence of housing complexes from cities peripheral to ceremonial sites such as the Chacchoben Archaeological Zone and the Los Limones site,” Hernández stated.

Overall, researchers have remarked that this discovery may be Mexico’s greatest archaeological find in recent decades.

After reading about these Maya beekeeping tools, dive into the story of El Castillo, the largest Maya pyramid. Then, read about the hallucinogenic mad honey found in the mountains of Turkey and Nepal.

Amber Morgan
Amber Morgan is an Editorial Fellow for All That's Interesting. She graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in political science, history, and Russian. Previously, she worked as a content creator for America House Kyiv, a Ukrainian organization focused on inspiring and engaging youth through cultural exchanges.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Morgan, Amber. "Maya Beekeeping Tools Used To Harvest Sacred Honey Centuries Ago Have Been Unearthed In The Yucatán.", May 23, 2024, Accessed June 21, 2024.