The Archaeology of Ecstasy: Psychedelics in the Ancient Mediterranean World

The Archaeology of Ecstasy: Psychedelics in the Ancient Mediterranean World

On Human Evolution

Humanity Evolved with Cannabis

Sea squirts are marine organisms that shared a common ancestor with vertebrates (animals, reptiles, birds, fish, etc.) 55 million years ago. These primitive animals have a precursor to the human heart. And they have an endocannabinoid system, producing naturally occurring cannabinoids like other animals. According to NORML, “By comparing the genetics of cannabinoid receptors in different species, scientists estimate that the endocannabinoid system evolved in primitive animals over 600 million years ago.”

Mind-altering plant and fungal medicines grow in every habitable place on earth. Chimps eat over a dozen species of plants for medicinal purposes. Large groups of them have been known to walk long distances to get to these medicinal plants, which scientists later discovered do things like kill parasites, fungi, and viruses. In fact, whole classes of compounds for human use have been formulated as a direct result of watching our wild cousins. Evidence from all over the world shows animals in the wild using psychoactive plants and mushrooms.

Early humans would naturally observe and learn from the animals around them, and, being animals themselves, would also be drawn to various forms of plant medicine. Modern anthropologists studying hunter-gatherer tribes found that they have an encyclopedic knowledge of local flora and fauna. The fungi, plants, and animals that they formed a special connection with were integrated into primitive spiritual rituals, rituals that would later evolve into yoga, for example.

Cannabis is known to be one of humanity’s earliest agricultural crops, having evolved between 6 and 34 million years ago. The exact time and place of first contact is still debated: some scientists point toward central Asia and others identify Europe during the last Ice Age. The herb entered the archaeological record of Asia and eastern Europe at about the same time, between about 12,500 and 10,000 years ago. A recent review of cannabis archaeological data links an intensification of cannabis use in East Asia with the rise of transcontinental trade at the dawn of the Bronze Age, about 5,000 years ago.

Humans used both nonpsychoactive hemp and the more medicinal cannabis version of the plant for a variety of reasons. Perhaps it was first used for food, as it was for other animals, then as medicine, and later as an intoxicant to enter an altered state as part of spiritual rituals. At some point we began making rope and textiles from its fiber, and those ropes may have been instrumental in the domestication of the horse.

Charred seeds have been found inside the burial mounds dating back to 3,000 BCE, and the oldest cannabis archaeological relic in existence is a piece of hemp cloth from 10,000 years ago.

Found in: Chapter 4. THE HISTORY OF CANNABIS AND YOGA, from:

Ganja Yoga: A Practical Guide to Conscious Relaxation, Soothing Pain Relief, and Enlightened Self-Discovery , by Dee Dussault, 2017.

On Lalibela pipe and coffee

Two of the pipes from Lalibela cave were subsequently tested for cannabis residue on the inside of the bowls. These tests showed conclusively that the two pipes in question were definitely used for the smoking of cannabis. This, together with the fact that no evidence of elbow-bend pipes was found, has been taken as evidence that cannabis was smoked in water pipes in thirteenth-or fourteenth-century Ethiopia. However, caution must be exercised in drawing this conclusion. There was no direct correlation between the pipes and any dates. Rather there was a general correlation between the pipes and the dates, since both were from the same levels. The sites were rather disturbed, and there was evidence that levels may have been contaminated by the extensive digging of pits. In addition, the culture of level II in both sites was similar to that of the people of the area today. Dombrowski postulated only that the excavation showed that Semitic-speaking Ethiopians had reached the Lake Tana area by c. I I00.

There is thus no compelling reason to assume that the pipes in question were deposited before the arrival of tobacco, although that is the most likely hypothesis, and it is known that these pipes were used for smoking something other than tobacco. Our best guess would be that these pipes were used before the introduction of tobacco from the New World, but this is far from proven. Perhaps advances in radiocarbon technology will allow us to obtain reliable dates from the residue in the pipes which would settle the issue of their dates. In the meantime Ethiopia, rather than Persia or southern Africa, has become the most likely place of origin of the water pipe, which may have spread during medieval times on routes similar to those used by coffee, another Ethiopian innovation.


African Smoking and Pipes

Author: John Edward Philips

Source: The Journal of African History, Vol. 24, No. 3 (1983)

Image source: Cannabis and Tobacco in Precolonial and Colonial Africa