Cannabis has been used for thousands of years, and for multiple purposes. Quite popularly, the plant was used as a spiritual tool by cultures around the world. Recent discoveries of cannabis residue suggest that the plant may have even facilitated communion between commoners and gods from the biblical Kingdom of Judah.
However, we don’t see cannabis used the same way we commonly see today. Rather than rolling up the herb, worshippers appear to have mixed the plant with animal dung before burning, letting the smoke fill the air.
The journal Tel Aviv saw a study in which a team of archaeologists describe their discovery of cannabis residue on an Iron Age shrine known as the ‘Holy of Holies’, which can be traced back to 750 BC. The shrine was first excavated in the 1960s, which is located within the fortress mound of Tel Arad, which guarded the southern border of the kingdom.
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Further studies saw the presence of cannabinol (CBN) – which forms as THC degrades. Additionally, they observed terpenes from the Cannabis sativa plant, such as β-caryophyllene and borneol.
What is quite curious though is how they prepared their cannabis. The cannabis residue was mixed with the excrement of an unidentified animal, likely included to help the resin burn. However, this does still leave many wondering about the odd combination, pondering whether or not they were trying to get high, meet with the gods, or a purpose completely unrelated to cannabis.
Tel Arad, in modern day Israel, has been at the forefront of cannabis research lately. However, the author of the study, Eran Arie from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, believes that very little evidence exists for cannabis use in this region in antiquity. He further explained that “This is the first time that cannabis has been identified in the Ancient Near East; Its use in the shrine must have played a central role in the cultic rituals performed there,”.
In their research, the team noted that this is the first evidence of cannabis use, or the use of any other psychoactive plant, in the Kingdom of Judah. They further noted that cannabis was used “at Arad as a deliberate psychoactive, to stimulate ecstasy as part of cultic ceremonies.”.
However, with the lack of cannabis evidence in the area, the origins of the plant for the use in these rituals remains a mystery. No traces of pollen or any other plant material were discovered, suggesting an external origin before being transported as a dry resin – possibly hash.
Majority of the evidence for cannabis use and cultivation comes from the Far East, where the earliest examples are seen in macrofossils on 10,000-year-old pieces of Japanese pottery. Several archaeological discoveries suggest that cannabis had an important role in Chinese spiritual life during Tel Arad’s peak, with evidence of cannabis residue found on incense burners within burial chambers in Western China.
It’s quite likely that the Silk Route played a part in getting cannabis to the Far East.