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J Hum Evol. 2014 Jun;71:119-28. doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2014.03.006. Epub 2014 Apr 17.

Honey, Hadza, hunter-gatherers, and human evolution.

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Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Cambridge, Rm. 2.3, Henry Wellcome Building, Cambridge CB2 1QH, UK. Electronic address:
Centre for Research in Evolutionary and Environmental Anthropology, University of Roehampton, London, UK.
Department of Anthropology, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA.
Department of Anthropology, University of Nevada Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV, USA.
Polar Geospatial Center, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA.
Department of Archaeology, University of Dar es Salaam, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.


Honey is the most energy dense food in nature. It is therefore not surprising that, where it exists, honey is an important food for almost all hunter-gatherers. Here we describe and analyze widespread honey collecting among foragers and show that where it is absent, in arctic and subarctic habitats, honey bees are also rare to absent. Second, we focus on one hunter-gatherer society, the Hadza of Tanzania. Hadza men and women both rank honey as their favorite food. Hadza acquire seven types of honey. Hadza women usually acquire honey that is close to the ground while men often climb tall baobab trees to raid the largest bee hives with stinging bees. Honey accounts for a substantial proportion of the kilocalories in the Hadza diet, especially that of Hadza men. Cross-cultural forager data reveal that in most hunter-gatherers, men acquire more honey than women but often, as with the Hadza, women do acquire some. Virtually all warm-climate foragers consume honey. Our closest living relatives, the great apes, take honey when they can. We suggest that honey has been part of the diet of our ancestors dating back to at least the earliest hominins. The earliest hominins, however, would have surely been less capable of acquiring as much honey as more recent, fully modern human hunter-gatherers. We discuss reasons for thinking our early ancestors would have acquired less honey than foragers ethnographically described, yet still significantly more than our great ape relatives.


Africa; Foragers; Honey bees; Paleodiet; Seasonality; Sexual division of labor

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