Seared wooden incense paraphernalia clearly displaying the oldest known proof of cannabis smoking was recently uncovered by archaeologists at an ancient burial site in the western Chinese Pamir mountains.
Strong cannabis sediment was found in the wooden burners and on charred stones inside the apparatuses. It’s thought that it was used as part of a ritual performed at funerals in the 2,500 year old Jirzankal cemetery. Scientists presume that the pebbles were placed in a fire before being moved to the brazier and blanketed with cannabis. Music was likely included as the psychoactive effects aided the performers of the ritual to enhance their connection with nature and the spirit world.
Researchers previously discovered remains of cannabis at other sites around Central Asia, but this most recent finding indicates the deliberate utilization of plants containing tetrahydrocannbinol (THC) as well as the inhalation of cannabis opposed to ingestion.
“There has been a longstanding debate over the origins of cannabis smoking; there are many speculative claims of ancient use,” says Robert Spengler from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. “This study provides the earliest unambiguous evidence for both elevated chemical production in the plant and also for the burning of the plant as a drug.”
The scientists gathered samples from the paraphernalia and the burnt pebbles to analyze through gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy – a method used to identify varying substances in a test sample. Yimin Yang, from the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, said, “To our excitement we identified the biomarkers of cannabis, notably chemicals related to the psychoactive properties of the plant”. More accurately, the scientists discovered cannabinol, a resultant substance of THC oxidization. The plants used definitely contained high concentrations of THC, but the absence of other cannabis breakdown matter creates uncertainty as to whether the plants were grown or found naturally in the wild.