An interesting paper in the Journal of Experimental Botany published back in December discusses the discovery of 2,700 Year Old Cannabis sativa. The discovery was made in the Yanghai tombs in China.
There are an estimated 2,500 tombs in the region that date to around 3200-2000 years BP. A number of the bodies are actually mummified. The tomb we are interested in has been given the designation M90.
The burial at Tomb M90
The burial is that of a 45 year old male. The grave goods included bridles, archery equipment, a harp, a leather basket, and a wooden bowl. Both the basket and the bowl were filled with vegetative matter – about 789 grams (~ 1 pound 11 ounces). Radiocarbon dating was performed and a calibrated date of 2,700 years BP was returned. Analysis of the vegetative material indicated it was Cannabis sativa. Furthing testing indicated it was psychoactive. As the paper points out, there are still some unresolved questions:
Current data do not permit it to be ascertained how the cannabis from the tomb was administered. If used orally, perhaps it was combined in some fashion with Capparis spinosa L., as these plants were found together in a nearby but later tomb at Yanghai … That date for that tomb was initially reported as 2700 years BP via radiocarbon methods, and since corrected to 2200-2400 years BP with additional calibration employing tree ring data. If this cannabis were smoked or inhaled, no mechanism for so doing has been excavated in the area. The Gushi could have sifted the cannabis through fabric after pounding, then fumigated it, much as described for the alleged cannabis candidate, the Sumerian A.ZAL.LA, administered medicinally for ‘hand of ghost’…, since posited as nocturnal epilepsy … While this culture could have arrived from the earlier BMAC region as ‘oasis hoppers’ …, and certain cultural relationships are apparent to the Scythian culture with respect to cannabis use and equestrian prowess, those peoples were Iranian speakers … In addition, Gushi cultural affinities and burial practices much more closely resemble those of the presumed proto-Tocharian speaking, incense-burning … Afanasievo peoples in the Yenisei Valley to the north …, whose putative southward migration some authorities have attributed to ‘global cooling’ c. 4000 years BP …, and to their proto-Indo-European-speaking Yamnaya forebears further west, dating to 6000 years BP … Abundant mysteries remain as to the origins and customs of the Gushi. Additional answers may accrue from future archaeological excavations or human genetic analyses that elucidate relationships with other ancient cultures and modern peoples of the region. The unique SNPs discovered in this ancient sample may yet be of critical importance in tracing the phylogeny and geographic spread of cannabis and the humans who used it.
Filed under: Archaeology