Chitral| Archaeologists excavating at a prehistoric site in the Hindu Kush mountains, have discovered what could be the most ancient proof of intentional use of a psychoactive substance by humans. While searching the site of a Paleolithic settlement estimated to be 120 000 years old, scientists discovered seeds, resin and ashes, associated to the indica subspecies of the cannabis sativa plant.
Discovered on the shores of the Kunar river in December 2013, in the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the site is one of the oldest ever found in South Asia. According to Professor Muzaffar Kambarzahi of the National Institute of Historical & Cultural Research (NIHCR) of the Quaid-i-Azam University, in charge of the team of scientists excavating the site, the various caves composing the settlement would have been inhabited for more than 2500 years during neolithic period. The historian has already elaborated a theory to explain the presence of cannabis on the site:
“According to the location and context in which the cannabis was found, leads us to believe it was used for ritual purposes. It seems that the occupants of the site threw large quantities of leaves, buds and resin in the fireplace situated on the far end of the cave, filling the entire site with psychotropic smoke.”
A chemical analysis executed on a small pottery jar found in the tomb of what seems to be a local chieftain or shaman, revealed that the vessel contained cannabis resin, also known as hashish, suggesting the plant was also associated with burial ceremonies and possibly other sacred rituals.
The oldest evidence of the inhalation of cannabis smokes known before the discovery of this new site, is to be found in the 3rd millennium BCE, as indicated by charred cannabis seeds found in a ritual brazier at an ancient burial site in present day Romania. In 2003, a leather basket filled with cannabis leaf fragments and seeds was found next to a 2,500- to 2,800-year-old mummified shaman in the northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China. Evidence for the consumption of cannabis has also been found in Egyptian mummies dated about 950 BC. Cannabis is also known to have been used by the ancient Hindus of India and Nepal thousands of years ago. The herb was called ganjika in Sanskrit.