Honey, Hadza, hunter-gatherers, and human evolution

Frank W. Marlowe, J. Colette Berbesque, Brian Wood, Alyssa Crittenden, Claire Porter, Audax Mabulla

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-128
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
StatePublished - Jun 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank two anonymous reviewers for excellent suggestions. We thank Hervey Peoples for making Fig. 1 and Table 1 . We also thank Costech for research permission in Tanzania. We thank the National Science Foundation (grant # 0544751 , # 9976681 , # 0242455 ), as well as grants from the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation ( SL952012 ) and Wenner-Gren . We also thank the Petersons, especially Daudi, for their help in numerous ways. We also thank our field assistants in Tanzania. We thank Nicholas Blurton Jones for inspiration, a range of data, and excellent advice.


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

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