Unearthing the Ancient Uses of Marijuana
Exciting archaeological evidence has just revealed the way that cannabis was used in rituals more than 2,500 years ago. According to archeologists, whole marijuana plants formed part of a burial shroud used in funeral ceremonies in ancient China.
Deep in the desert region of the Turpan Basin in northwest China, archeologists, unearthed a tomb containing a stash of marijuana plants estimated to be about 2,500 years old. The team found 13 fully grown, but at this point long dried out marijuana plants. Remarkably, the plants were intact and seemed to be woven together.
Marijuana In Ancient Ceremonies
Archeologists have long-known that cannabis flowers and marijuana plants were used in various rituals and ceremonies in the ancient world. But the Chinese team discovered a first: the use of the plant to make funeral garments for the dead.
The baker’s dozen of marijuana plants found by Hongen Jiang and his team from the Universtiy of the Chinese Academy of Sciences had been draped over the body of a man who died in his mid-30s, according to the scientists.
The report, published in the Journal of Experimental Botany, describes plants which were laid around and over the body almost like a wreath or a shroud. The roots of the plants started around the man’s navel, and the tips — which curiously had their flowers clipped — stopped at the man’s face.
Cannabis Likely Played Role in Funeral Rituals
The tombs excavated by Jiang and his team were located on the ancient trading route called the Silk Road, a major nexus of commerce and exchange. The area was inhabited by the Subeixi, a pastoral people that traded with merchants along the Silk Road.
While the funeral shroud made of marijuana plants was a first-of-its-kind discovery, it wasn’t the only evidence of ritual marijuana use that the team uncovered.
Several of the other tombs in the cemetery contained piles of marijuana seeds, stem fragments, marijuana leaves, and even marijuana fruits and flowers.
The discovery has raised new questions about the role cannabis played in ancient cultures. Did the Subeixi people grow the plants locally, or were they obtained from the traveling merchants passing through the area? The fact that the shroud contained whole plants suggests that marijuana cultivation happened locally.
Did Ancient Cultures Use Cannabis For Its Psychoactive Properties?
The real debate, however, boils down to the question of just what exactly ancient cultures used marijuana for. Hemp fibers and textiles as old as 6,000-7,000 years have been unearthed in Siberia and China. But hemp fibers hadn’t been found in the Turpan Basin until the discovery of the funeral fabric.
And archeologists think that means cannabis was used for its psychoactive properties. In other words, people used it to get high.
Back in 2006, a different team found a large cache of marijuana in a grave dated to the same period. The lack of hemp fabrics could indicate, they argue, that people valued marijuana not as a textile, but as a medicinal and ritual herb.