Beekeeping, which is defined as the maintaining of a colony of honey bees by a human being, has been known since antiquity. The Egyptians domesticated wild bees and kept them in artificial hives. The Greek cultures of Crete and Mycenae had a very specialised and highly valued system of apiculture, which can be seen from the finds of different beekeeping paraphernalia in Knossos. The word apiculture is derived from the Latin word apis which means bee.
Humans keep bees in order to gain honey and other substances the bees produce in their hives, such as beeswax, royal jelly or propolis. These substances are predominantly used for the food, cosmetic and pharma industries. Beekeepers, or apiarists, also cultivate bees to pollinate crops or to sell bees to other beekeepers. They wear protective clothing such as gloves, suits and veiled hats of a light colour and smooth material, differentiating the apiarist from the bees’ natural enemies which are dark-coloured and furry.
The beehives have undergone significant changes since the beginnings of apiculture. In antiquity, artificial hives could be made of hollow logs or wooden boxes, straw in combination with clay, and pottery vessels. In the 19th century many innovators and inventors improved the science of beekeeping and brought about changes in hive construction, breeding and honey extraction. Different types and designs of hives have been used in the USA, France, the UK or Scandinavian countries. Although beehives can vary significantly in size, their common feature is their shape: Usually rectangular or square, beehives have an interior sectioning made of wooden frames. In modern beekeeping the hive can be made out of polystyrene instead of wood.
There are different species of bees, however in Europe and America beekeepers usually manage the Western honey bee (apis mellifera) or one of its regional sub-species. A current movement excludes all chemicals in the process of beekeeping since the unnatural conditions of commercial and large scale apiculture are believed to weaken the species of the honey bee. In recent years scientists in the USA and Europe have raised awareness about the collapsing of bee colonies (colony collapse disorder, CCD) due to insect diseases or environmental changes.