Archaeologists have unearthed some powerful hallucinogenic potion from a 1,000-year-old leather pouch that once belonged to a Native American shaman in South America.
The team tested the substances and found traces of at least five psychotropic plants that induce altered consciousness.
"This is the largest number of psychoactive substances ever found in a single archaeological assemblage from South America," stated Jose Capriles, an assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University and was part of the international team that made the discovery.
1,000-Year-Old Plant-Based Hallucinogenics Found In South America
The substance was discovered inside a cave in the Bolivian Andes. The researchers were initially searching for ancient occupations in the dry rock shelters in southwestern Bolivia when they stumbled upon a ritual bundle used in a human burial. They also found a small pouch made up of three fox snouts.
The ritual bundle — a leather bag — contained two snuffing tablets to pulverize the psychotropic plants and a snuffing tube to smoke them. Using accelerator mass spectrometry radiocarbon dating, the team discovered that the leather bag is 1,000 years old.
The researchers also scraped the interior of the small pouch, analyzed the substance with liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry, and identified the presence of multiple psychoactive drugs: cocaine, benzoylecgonine, harmine, bufotenine, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and psilocin.
Capriles suggested that the small pouch might have belonged to a shaman. Psychoactive substances played a huge part in the spiritual and religious activities of Native Americans in South America.
"Shamans were ritual specialists who had knowledge of plants and how to use them as mechanisms to engage with supernatural beings, including venerated ancestors who were thought to exist in other realms," he explained. "It is possible that the shaman who owned this pouch consumed multiple different plants simultaneously to produce different effects or extend his or her hallucinations."
Melanie Miller, an archaeologist from UC Berkeley who led the study, added that a number of the plants found would have been poisonous if consumed improperly. She added that whoever owned the ritual bundle must have been knowledgeable on how to procure the plants and how to use them.
Ayahuasca In Ancient Rituals
The researchers also noted the presence of both harmine and DMT, the primary ingredients of modern ayahuasca, a drink that induces hallucination and alters consciousness. Ayahuasca is often associated with the Amazon jungle and it is popular among people who seek spiritual awakening.
The discovery disproves the claims that ayahuasca has fairly modern origins.
Moreover, the incredibly well-preserved ritual bundle adds to the growing body of evidence that ritualistic psychotropic plant use has been around for millennia. It is also the first evidence of ancient South Americans combining different plants to produce powerful hallucinogens like ayahuasca.
The study was published in PNAS on Monday, May 6.