It goes to reason that most of us probably don’t spend much time considering how 10,000 years ago someone our age was returning home after a long day of, say, working out in the woods, and needing to relax their aching muscles or unwind and so they would maybe take a hollowed-out bone or piece of wood, place some dank green nuggets in it, use embers from the fire to light up, and just kick back and get “cave-locked.” In today’s blog, we’ll look back on marijuana’s history and archaeological evidence of cannabis.
Hypothetical as this is, and silly as the anecdote above may sound, the fact is, there is solid archaeological and paleoethnobotany evidence and research to show that humankind has been aware of the benefits of what we now call “medical and recreational marijuana” for more than just a long time, but rather, all the way back into the end of the last Ice Age!
Furthermore, while researchers are still studying and discovering just how ancient societal usage of weed is, a pollen study was published in May 2019 stating that the cannabis plant genus evolved 28 million years ago on the eastern Tibetan Plateau. All of this is to say: evidence of cannabis was around long before any of us and societies have been using it for thousands upon thousands of years.
Evidence of Cannabis Seen in Cavepeople
While it’s pretty safe to assume that there weren’t softly-lit, gleaming dispensaries with exposed brick and MCM interior decor, dank buds thoughtfully displayed in thick glass candy jars or edibles, oils, and tinctures nicely arranged in glass display cases around 10,000 years ago, researchers from the German Archaeological Institute and other paleoethnobotanists, who study past human-plant relationships via the recovery and analysis of ancient plant remains, have shown that people were using cannabis and hemp at that time to make clothes, ropes, medicine, and yes, to get high. In fact, taking this evidence into consideration also means that getting high has been long preferred by humankind over getting inebriated for about 3,000 years!
In 2019, a team of archeologists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences announced that they had unearthed the fragments of 10 wooden braziers from Jirzankal Cemetery, an ancient gravesite on the Pamir Plateau that dates back 2,500 years ago. Translation: Archeologists found 2,500-year-old bongs at a burial ground in western China!
Jirzankal Cemetery is located where weed grows wild and the researchers were able to determine that the residues found in the braziers were of a very potent form of weed with high THC levels. Paleoethnobotanists are still learning how people from over 2,000 years ago figured out how to cultivate cannabis to provide yields with higher THC content or sturdier hemp etc.
The unearthing of these wooden braziers has given researchers some insight into the customs and funeral rituals of that time, in which not so different from now, smoking or inhaling weed served a societal role as a ritual and medicine for grief, and perhaps, bluntly put, mask the smell of a decaying corpse.
Due to the findings at Jirzankal, and thanks to the work of archeologists and paleoethnobotanists, they have been able to show that humans were using weed at least 10,000 years ago. It is believed that trade routes that existed between Europe and East Asia during the Bronze Age 5,000 years ago are very much connected to the spread and increased usage of marijuana and hemp in that part of the Eastern Hemisphere. It could also be that thanks to the many uses of cannabis, it could have been used as a “cash crop before cash” where it was used for purposes of trade and exchange; though it definitely would not have been the only good used for such purposes.
How Evidence of Cannabis Is Still Relevant Today
Archeology and paleoethnobotany have proven that evidence of cannabis in all its many forms and uses has been around for not just centuries, but millennia. While we are always in a constant state of learning, the fact that fact-based science has already shown us that even 10,000 years ago our human ancestors were at the very least aware of and were using various forms of cannabis to clothe themselves, construct building materials, craft medicine, and “chillax” with long before alcohol existed.
The reality that 2,500 years ago people were using weed in one of life’s greatest transitions–death, with the other being birth–is not something to be taken as a random fact that will score you points in a game of Trivial Pursuit. Instead, it is an indicator that this plant, whose lineage has been traced back to at least 28 million years ago, is not some modern-day, flash-in-the-pan “loser” “stoner” escape but that it is one that has long been valued by even those most ancient of societies (even “cavepeople”) as a beneficial crop that can benefit us in both medicinal, spiritual, emotional, and physical ways.
Written By Kim Thompson
Along with being an award-winning creative and literary writer, Kim works as a freelance copywriter, editor, and proofreader both domestically and internationally.
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