ANCIENT pots from Chinese tombs have revealed the earliest evidence of ritual cannabis smoking.
Archaeologists discovered psychoactive compounds that had been preserved in 2,500-year-old funerary incense burners.
The burners were discovered in the mysterious Jirzankal Cemetery in the Pamir mountain range in East Asia.
An investigation revealed that ancient Chinese people were specifically choosing plants with higher levels of THC to burn as part of rituals.
It’s the earliest clear evidence of cannabis being used for its psychoactive properties.
Previously, very little was known about cannabis use for its mind-altering effects.
Cannabis plants have been cultivated in East Asia since at least 4,000BC – but only for its oily seeds and fibre.
And these early cannabis cultivations had low levels of THC and other cannabinoid compounds with psychoactive properties.
So it has been a longstanding (and now solved) mystery over who began using cannabis for more “spiritual” purposes.
Researchers recovered burners from 2,500-year-old tombs in the Pamir mountain range.
They then isolated and identified the compounds preserved in the burners, discovering that the chemical signature was an exact match to that of cannabis.
The breakthrough findings were published in Science Advances by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
“The findings support the idea that cannabis plants were first used for their psychoactive compounds in the mountainous regions of eastern Central Asia, thereafter spreading to other regions of the world,” said Nicole Boivin, Director at the Max Planck Institute.
But who were the people using the cannabis?
Skeletons recovered at the site – which is located in western China – have features that resemble people of the time further west in Central Asia.
And objects found in the burials link the population to people further west in the mountain foothills of Inner Asia.
Studies on the human bones at the cemetery show that not all of the people buried there grew up locally.
That’s why scientists think some may have been travellers along a key ancient trade route of the early Silk Road.
“The exchange routes of the early Silk Road functioned more like the spokes of a wagon wheel than a long-distance road, placing Central Asia at the heart of the ancient world,” said RObert Spengler, of the Max Planck Institute.
“Our study implies that knowledge of cannabis smoking and specific high-chemical-producing varieties of the cannabis plant were among the cultural traditions that spread along these exchange routes.”
It’s believed that people roaming the high mountainous regions may have discovered potent wild plants locally, and began burning it.
Evidence from the graveyard suggests that people were burning the cannabis at rituals commemorating the dead.
They buried their family and friends in tombs, which were covered by circular mounds, stone rings and striped patterns.
The news comes just a few weeks after a separate team of scientists discovered the origin of cannabis.
Experts reckon the mind-bending plant evolved on top of a giant Tibetan mountain 28million years ago.
Scientists say cannabis evolved in the Tibetan mountains (stock)[/caption]
Scientists at the University of Vermont in the US looked at 155 scientific studies that analysed fossilised cannabis pollen found in Central Asia.
They used data from each study to identify where in Asia the plant grows best, and in what environment.
“Cannabis flourishes in steppe – an open, treeless habitat,” the researchers wrote in a paper on their findings.
They narrowed down cannabis’ origins to a spot 15,000ft above sea level at Qinghai Lake in the northeastern Tibetan Plateau.
It diverged from another, similar plant in the Humulus genus about 28million years ago.
After this genetic split, the team thinks cannabis spread westwards – reaching Russia and Europe by 6million years ago.
It reached China a little later, around 1.2million years ago.
Humans all over Eurasia began to cultivate the plant thousands of years ago, using it to make rope and clothing before moving on to its more mind-bending effects.
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