Honey Bees Across America

By Brenda Kellar

[Note from LACBA: We'd like to thank Brenda Kellar for granting permission to the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association to post the following article and utilize it on our website under History of Honey Bees in America.] 

Honey Bees Across America 

By Brenda Kellar 

The creation of the United States can be found in the footsteps of the honey bee (Apis mellifera L.). Brought to the east coast of North America in 1622 it would be 231 years before the honey bee reached the west coast. Disease, hostile competitors, harsh climates, and geographical barriers blocked the advance of honey bee and human alike.

Their greatest advantage was each other. The honey bee provided honey, wax, and propolis for human consumption and market, they pollinated the European seeds and saplings that the immigrants brought with them, and they changed the environment (many times in advance of the human immigrants) making it more acceptable to the imported livestock by helping to spread white clover and other English grasses. Christopher Gist wrote in 1751 when near the present site of Circleville “all the way from Licking Creek to this Place is fine rich level Land, with large Meadows, Clover Bottoms & spacious Plains covered with Wild Rye” and west of the Alleghenies “the first arrivals found white clover and Kentucky bluegrass” (Bidwell and Falconer 1925:157). In return the humans provided shelter, encouraged swarming, planted large tracts of plants that are highly utilized by honey bees, and aided the honey bees’ travels over barriers like treeless plains and mountain ranges.

Historical archaeology, with its interdisciplinary approach and incorporation of historic materials with artifacts, is the discipline most suited to discovering the long-term processes that produce changes in both culture and the environment. Honey bees, and I could argue all insect species, leave traces of their impact on the environment and on human cultures that historic archaeology is uniquely designed to uncover.