Researchers reported the discovery of 13 cannabis plants that were found in an ancient tomb in China. The find suggests that marijuana was used in rituals and had medicinal uses among prehistoric central Eurasians.
In a new study published in Economic Botany on Sept. 20, archaeologist Hongen Jiang, from the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology of the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, and colleagues described the burial of an adult man with Caucasian features.
The man, who is believed to be 35 years old at the time of his death, was laid out on a wooden bed and reed pillow. Thirteen cannabis plants measuring up to nearly 3 feet long each were also found lying diagonally across the man's chest. The cannabis plants were purposefully arranged and used as a burial shroud for the corpse.
The tomb lies in the Turpan Basin in northwest China, which was an important stop on the Silk Road, an ancient network of trade routes. Radiocarbon dating revealed that the burial is between 2,400 and 2,800 years old.
Researchers said that the discovery adds to a growing number of archaeological evidences of the popularity of cannabis consumption across the Eurasian region during ancient times.
It was not the first time researchers found cannabis at sites in China and Siberia. Researchers, for instance, have found cannabis seeds in the burial of a woman in Southern Siberia who may have died of breast cancer. Archaeologist believe the woman may have been partly using cannabis to ease her symptoms.
The origins of the plants that were discovered earlier, however, were not clear. It is possible that those were transported from other areas. The manner by which the newly described cannabis plants were placed on the corpse, on the other hand, shows the plants were fresh at the time of the burial, suggesting that these were locally produced.
The find was the first instance when researchers found complete cannabis plants.
Some of the flowering heads that remained were also nearly ripe and had some immature fruit, hinting that the plants were harvested in late summer, when the plants would have been mature.
The discovery is also the first that shows the use of marijuana as covering in a human burial.
"This unique discovery provides new insight into the ritualistic use of Cannabis in prehistoric Central Eurasia," the researchers wrote in their study. "Cannabis was used by the local Central Eurasian people for ritual and/or medicinal purposes in the first millennium before the Christian era."