Remarkable 3,000-year-old bee mummies discovered in Portugal.
A groundbreaking discovery off the coast of Odemira, Portugal has revealed hundreds of impeccably preserved bees from nearly 3,000 years ago. These bee mummies found ensconced within their cocoons, offer a rare look into an unconventional fossilization method. Due to the chitinous nature of insect skeletons, they typically degrade rapidly. This makes the survival of these ancient specimens even more extraordinary.
Unraveling Nature’s Secrets
These mummies, described by Carlos Neto de Carvalho of the University of Lisbon’s Dom Luiz Institute, have been maintained so well that they’ve divulged intricate details, including the bees’ species, gender, and even traces of monofloral pollen imparted by the mother bee during cocoon construction.
According to de Carvalho, the ongoing project unveiled four paleontological sites brimming with such bee cocoon fossils. Remarkably, these sites contained thousands of such deposits within a mere square meter. These treasure troves, situated between Vila Nova de Milfontes and Odeceixe, underwent carbon 14 dating, thanks to the unwavering support of the Odemira municipality.
Andrea Baucon, a co-researcher from the University of Siena, emphasizes the rarity of such finds. Even though bee nests and hives boast a fossil history spanning 100 million years, it’s rare to find the bees themselves preserved in such a manner. These recent cocoons have encapsulated young Eucera bees, a species still thriving in Portugal, in a sarcophagus-like state.
Technological Advances Enhance Discovery
Modern microcomputed tomography has provided stunning three-dimensional imagery of these mummified bees in their sealed cocoons. Interestingly, the cocoons’ interiors exhibit threads woven by mother bees, made of an organic polymer. Occasionally, remnants of monofloral pollen can be found, indicative of early larval sustenance.
Bees, vital pollinators for our ecosystem, number over 20,000 species worldwide. Alarmingly, their numbers are dwindling, attributed to human actions and climate shifts.
Studying the death and preservation of these ancient bees might reveal the environmental changes of yesteryears. With conditions 3,000 years ago characterized by colder, rainier winters, understanding the past may hold keys to future resilience.
De Carvalho postulates that sudden cold snaps or flooding outside the rainy seasons might have been the bees’ doom, leading to their subsequent mummification.
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