Colorado beekeeper Kitt writes a very good blog about (among other things) her bee adventures, and I found this entry from last year in which she describes bee skeps, the man-made hive of yesteryear. She writes:
What's a skep? A bee skep is an old-fashioned beehive that has since been replaced by the more practical (and humane) box hive you're used to.
In olden days, folks often would have special niches, called bee boles, built into their walls to hold bee skeps. The bees would build their honeycomb inside the skep. Before winter, half the hives would be destroyed to get the honey out, and the other half would be allowed to overwinter.
Uncle Ralph doesn't make his skeps as large as they would be if they were going to be used, but he makes them correctly, complete with a bee hook inside, from which the bees would hang their comb.