National Geographic News
Archaeologists in northwest China made an incredible discovery recently. They found what they described as an "extraordinary cache" of cannabis plants in an ancient burial site. The finding has opened a few new windows into our understanding of how ancient people used the psychoactive plant.
The archaeologist Hongen Jiang, along with his colleagues, published a report in Economic Botany about their find. They discovered a Caucasian man buried in the Turpan Basin region of China. He appears to have been about thirty-five years old at the time of his death, and was laid to rest on a wooden bed and a pillow made of reeds. There were also a total of thirteen cannabis plants laid diagonally across his chest.
According to radiocarbon dating, the man was buried between 2,400 and 2,800 years ago. The finding corroborates the speculation that cannabis use was popular in ancient Eurasia.
The burial site contains two hundred and forty graves, in Turpan's Jiayi cemetery. Turpan, home to desert oases, was a popular stop on the Silk Road. Cannabis has been unearthed in other graves from the era contemporary with the new finding, in the Turpan area. Cannabis seeds have been found in nearby burial sites, but this is the first time we've found intact, complete plants in an ancient grave. It's also the first time we've observed them being used as a covering in the grave.
It's not known exactly why the ancient Subeixi people, who occupied Turpan at the time of the man's burial, cultivated cannabis. While it's famous for its psychoactive properties, it is also useful for making fabrics and as a food source. But considering the fact that archaeologists have not uncovered cannabis-derived textiles in the area, and how small the fruits were on the dessicated plants, it is most likely that they were grown for getting high.
Researchers believe that the cannabis was probably grown in order that it might be imbibed as an incense or mixed into a drink, both for medicinal and ritual purposes.
Advocates of cannabis have long claimed that humanity's relationship with the plant is a long-lived one. Like alcohol, marijuana appears to have been with us from the beginning. Whether you support marijuana use or not, it is a mater of historical record that people have been using it, for better or worse, for pretty much our entire history as a species. It was a remarkable find indeed.