Dear dr. Constans,
We are impressed about the wide interest arisen by the article on Etruscan apiculture. We have noticed that some of the comments in the blog would deserve further information. Hopefully, we provide here some more documentation together with a few comments helping to disentangle the most difficult questions (e.g. Vitis honey).
THE ENVIRONMENTAL AND URBANISTIC SETTING OF THE FORCELLO HARBOUR. EVIDENCE FOR BEEKEEPING
The urbanistic setting of the Forcello Etruscan harbor and its environmental frame along the Mincio River were not entirely provided by the paper made available (Castellano et al., JAS, 2017), but referred to two other papers, which are here attached for your convenience (Fredella et al., Anthus Markes, 2012; Ravazzi et al., Quat. Int., 2013).
In Ravazzi et al., 2013 the reader will find information about the peculiar hydrography of the lower Mincio valley in the Etruscan time. The Mincio formed a lake system entrenched into the valley, and the Etruscan harbor was set on the lake shore. Some readers claimed whether the honeycombs could have been maintained in marshes or ponds close to the village, but this circumstance is excluded both by the hydrographic setting and by additional pollen analysis on sediments accumulated on the lake shore. Indeed, there was no _Nymphoides _(faux-nénuphar) there during the Etruscan time.
In Fredella et al., 2012 the reader will find a preliminary pictorial reconstruction of the harbor environmental setting and a summary of the history of the town, including archaeological evidence that the fire burning out the honeycombs affected the complete town while actively inhabited, not a single house in ruine. In Castellano et al., 2017 we provided evidence that the honeycombs were based into an artificial box of fir, speaking for beekeeping activities; thus, we already excluded a wild bee colony – this is also to reply some blog readers.
EVIDENCE FOR VITIS HONEY
The following evidences must be pointed out to the article readers:
We anticipate here the results of an ongoing experimental work – we burnt honey in controlled atmosphere. Honey was burnt at step heating, to observe morphoscopical, chemical and palynological changes. The “charred clots” found in the Etruscan site - from where the Vitis pollen originates - match perfectly the behavior of flowing and immediate clotting by a homogeneous viscous fluid, such as honey is. Charred clots originated after solidification of a melted substance with reduced viscosity, chemically and morphoscophically matching honey and wax. Such an admixture of honey and wax was first exposed to fire heating between 150 and > 200 °C; but then it sudden cooled out, while it was splashing over the silty pavement surface of the house.
The palynological and archaeobotanical evidence points that bees did not forage on Vitis pollen only but also on Vitis nectar, most probably belonging to a wild variety. First at all, please notice that nectar is produced by the wild grape in higher quantity compared to domestic grape. The evidence from the Etruscan site is that grape pollen originates from a specific material, the so-called “charred clots” which is the product of honey-wax clotting (see above), and not from the 26 bee breads preserved in their original cylindric shape and analysed separately. Thus, bees accumulated Vitis pollen in honey and not in the bee breads from the same honeycomb. Bee foraging for pollen (as envisaged by Bernard Vaissière) would have resulted in pollen storage in bee breads as well. We know that pollen may me incorporated in honey which is unrelated to the source of nectar, but, in this case, we would likely have found it in bee breads as well. Furthermore, while considering that Vitis is not a high contributor to bee pollen load, our evidence is precisely for 16 to 52 Vitis pollen percentage in a pollen assemblage obtained from honey or honey-derived material. This is not expected to result from later addition or contamination by Vitis pollen to a different main source of nectar. In conclusion, we suggest that the honey was produced at least in part by nectar of wild Vitis, but we maintain that other floral sources may have contributed to produce this Etruscan honey.
NYU – Institute for the Study of the Ancient World
CNR – IDPA, Laboratorio di Palinologia e Paleoecologia, Milano