National Geographic reports that archeologists in China have uncovered a burial site that sheds a little light on the significance ancient peoples attached to cannabis. The ancient grave, dated as being 2,500 to 2,800 years old contains the skeleton of a man who probably died at the age of around 35, but the most interesting find isn’t the skeleton: the man was covered in fresh cannabis plants, almost as if they were a burial shroud.
There is no evidence of cannabis being grown for its seed or fibers during the period, and it is believed that the cannabis must have had a ritual significance, or else have been used medicinally.
An early healer?
We know that ancient peoples often revered mind-altering plants as being a means of communicating with the gods, but experts say that the cannabis grown in the area at the time was not particularly potent.
Could this skeleton have been that of a shaman who used cannabis as a healing plant? Another grave in the area containing a stash of ancient cannabis was found a few kilometers away, but this time, the corpse had been buried with dried plant material and seeds. Presumably, he must have died at a season when dried cannabis was all that was available.
But it is not only men along the silk road that have been found buried with cannabis plant material. In Siberia, a woman who archeologists believe may have died of breast cancer was found in a grave containing her own stash of cannabis. Experts believe she may have been using the herb to ease her symptoms.
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Given that the burial site is situated along one of the major Silk Road trade routes, it is perhaps no surprise that the skull shows Caucasian, rather than Oriental features, but the find has answered one important question. Given that other graves had contained material that had been dried prior to burial, nobody was sure whether the cannabis plants had been grown in the area, or whether they had been brought along by travelers.
Now archeologists can be sure that cannabis was, indeed, grown locally, as the man’s body had been covered with fresh plants. Most of the flowering tops had been cut off, but a few remained in a remarkable state of preservation. One can still see the seed capsules, and even a few trichromes remain, clinging to the cannabis flowers.
National Geographic reports that the scholars who are studying the cannabis graves believe that whatever the significance of cannabis to these ancient people, they drank some kind of cannabis-infused beverage, rather than smoking the plant material. Others theorize that the plant may have been burned as a type of ritual incense. Either way, we are faced with an interesting question: were they using cannabis to get high and achieve an elevated spiritual state, or was it a medicine?
We’re inclined to think the latter is true. A cannabis tea, while relaxing, is not able to reach the temperatures necessary to alter the THC to its psychoactive form, and surely use as an incense would have to take place in a very small, enclosed space before any effect could be had from inhaling smoke from the air. Whatever the truth behind this mystery is, we can be sure that cannabis had a deep significance to these people. How we wish there was some kind of written record so that we could be sure exactly what it was!