Friday, 7 November 2008

Drug use in ancient civilisations

The drug paraphenalia excavated with the Tiwakanu bodyby Derry Nairn

Two recent archaeological stories show that humanity has been using drugs on opposite ends of the earth for thousands of years.

In Chile, new tests on members of an ancient pre-Hispanic civilisation are showing clear signs of drug use. Graves of the Tiwanaku are often found to contain equipment for using hallucinogens, such as pipes. Recent experiments by the University of Tarapaca on the remains of an adult male buried with an elaborate snuffing kit have shown that his body contained significant samples of a hallucinogenic plant.

Professor Ogalde who led the project said that:
The presence of harmine suggests the Tiwanaku travelled in search of exotic hallucinogens, and brought the Banisteriopsis vine from as far as the Amazon rainforest, some 300 miles away
An answer to the question of why the drugs were used is more complex. Prof Ogalde suggested a therapeutic use. However traces of the chemical were also found in the body of an infant, clouding any clearly-defined explanation.

In a seperate discovery, as reported in the Sunday Times, bowls and pipes for mixing and inhaling hallucinogens were uncovered in a Stone Age grave on the Carribbean island of Carriacou. The North Carolina State University researchers who happened upon the equipment came to the conclusion that it originated in South America, over 400 miles away.

Richard Davenport-Hines is quoted in the newspaper report as saying
Drug use became widespread in many early agriculture-based societies simply because it was the only way people could cope with spending long hours working in the fields, often in horrible conditions like baking sun
Here are some related articles from recent History Today issues:

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