Friday, January 24, 2014

Skep Beehives (Part 2 of 8): History of the Skep

This is the second part in a series of short articles on skeps in the Medieval through Renaissance periods.

The earliest known remains of a wicker skep were from 1-200AD. The example came from a peat bog near Wilhelmshaven on the North Sea coast of Lower Saxony. (Crane 1999, p251) Wicker and coiled straw basket techniques were known since Antiquity and could have been used as skeps then. The Germanic tribes west of the Elbe were the first to use the straw skep even before the Christian era (Fraser 1958, p11). The Germanic tribes brought the skep west towards the French Channel and north-west into Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Sweden. The Anglo-Saxons brought the skep into Britain (Fraser 1958, p12).

Straw skeps last longer than wicker because the dung and clay mixture used to protect the hive adhered better to straw rather than wicker (Butler, Ch 3). This is called cloaming or clooming (Alston, p11). Straw replaced wicker as a common material around 500 AD when the straw skep was introduced to Britain (Alston 1987, p12). Skeps were not common outside of Europe where differing climates would affect the types of hives used. There were no significant changes to the way beekeepers used skeps until post-1600's.

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