Honey hunting in prehistoric art
A spanish stamp

Description: A scene of honey hunting in the stone age.

Historical: the rock paintng was discovered by E. Hernan des Pacheco in 1924 in a cave called "La Cueva de la Arana" (The Spiders Cave) near the village of Bicorp in the province of Valencia.

This  discovery gave raise to several scientific controversies concerning the age of the painting, the sex of the honey hunter and the role of a second person who is standing on the lower part of the ladder and who is often cut out from the main and higher representation as in the case of this stamp.

How old is the painting ? The experts do not agree on its age but there are indications that the scene could have been painted about 10.000 years ago. This means that about 600 generations have succeeded to this human being caught in the act of harvesting honey. 

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Man or woman? The anatomical configuration is resembling to that of a woman and a German stamps collector has described this honey hunter in his catalogue as: "woman harvesting honey". Well it could be so, but it is also possible that the painter wished to depict a man, whose body was "rounded" by stuffing material for protection against bees' sticking ! (It is done even today by certain tribesman of Africa). Thence should we call this person the "man" or "woman" of Bicorp ? Man or woman: we have to recognize, that we are confronted with a wonderful piece of prehistorical art.

What was the function oft he second person placed on the lower part of the ladder as shown in the drawing ? Is he going up, coming down or just holding the ladder to prevent it for swinging ? Or waiting to receivc the basket filled by the honey hunter ? Or perhaps is he ready to send clouds of smoke into the air for calming the irritated bees ? We will never know, but each of us is allowed to make its own interpretation as this cause no harm to this marvelous scene of honey hunting.

Of course after its discovery the side was visited frequently, but not all visitors understood and respected this bees' sanctuary. It was reported that some unscrupulous people have thrown bottles of water and even flasks of wine (!) on the painting for "washing" it prior taking pictures !

In 1991 a French couple, named Lucien and Madeleine Adam, visited the cave and were shocked by the beautyful condition of the rock painting which appeared several damaged. They wrote to the King of Spain who referred them to the regional Authorities and thence they started a campaign of sensibilisation for the saving of this precious testimonial of a prehistoric honey harvest, They were joined by a Spanish beekeeper of Burgos, Florencio Chicote, who assumed the role of  "campaign coordinator", and by Nino Masetti, responsable of the "Museum of Arts and Beekecping Traditions" of Fontan in France. 

Radio and TV appeals were broad-casted  in Spain while invitations to  adhere to the supporting campaign where launched through the international beekeeping press. 

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Thousands of signatures aiming to the registration of the Bicorp's rock painting to the world cultural heritage by UNESCO were collected by the promoters during the Apimondia Congress in Antwerp (1997), among the visitors of beekeeping musea inseveral countries, the participants to honey exhibitions and other beekeeping events.

As a results of these efforts, during a session held in Tokyo on the first days of December 1998, UNESCO has registered the rock paintings of "La Cueva de la Arafia" and other paintings of "El Levante Espagnol" (Eastern of Spain) to the World Cultural Heritage.

Finally the man (or woman) of The Spider's Cave of Bicorp will smile again while continuing his (her) eternal honey harvesting thanks to the goodwill of thousands of people from the five continents.

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Other prehistoric rock paintings concerning bees, honey combs and honey hunting activities were discovered in India, Africa and - recently - in Spain again ! A speculative thought: what kind of combustible was used by our ancestors ? 

A missionary repatriated from Kenia told me that the most efficient stuff is without any doubt the elephant's dung. Long lasting, white, cold smoke with no odours at all!

by Jan de Crom  
taken from "The Postal Bee" 1/1999 
Contact Group Bee Philately

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