These wooden braziers were likely used to burn cannabis at funeral rituals in ancient China. (X. Wu/Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; solidcolours, bauhaus1000/iStock)
In a significant addition to the historical record, a group of researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences has unearthed a 2,500-year-old bong, revealing the long-standing use of cannabis in ancient times. While referred to as a “wooden brazier” by the archeologists who discovered it, this ancient smoking device served as a communal bong used to hotbox the ceremonial hut during funeral rites. Chemical analysis of burned botanical residue found at the Jirzankal Cemetery in China’s Eastern Pamir region indicates that cannabis plants were intentionally burned during mortuary ceremonies, suggesting their involvement in ritual and/or religious activities at least 2,500 years ago. The researchers also noted that the cannabis plants produced psychoactive compounds, highlighting their potent effects. This discovery sheds new light on the cultural significance of cannabis and its use in ancient Chinese rituals, contributing to a deeper understanding of our historical relationship with this remarkable plant.
Ancient Cannabis Rituals Revealed: Archeologists Unearth Wooden Braziers:
In a fascinating archaeological find, ten wooden braziers resembling large one-hitters have been discovered at the Jirzankal Cemetery, an ancient burial site dating back to approximately 1,500 BCE. These braziers, featuring carved rounded wells, contained walnut-sized rocks believed to have been heated in nearby fires. The slightly charred wooden bowls and rocks displayed traces of burned cannabinoid residue, providing compelling evidence of cannabis use in ancient rituals. This discovery aligns with accounts by the Greek historian Herodotus, who described cannabis smoking practices in the Caspian Steppe region during the first millennium BCE.
Uncovering the Chemical Signatures:
Chemical testing conducted on the residue found within the vessels and on some of the stones revealed the presence of CBN (cannabinol), the byproduct of THC combustion. This discovery lends support to Herodotus’ historical claims and offers one of the earliest pieces of evidence for cannabis use in ancient times. The findings, recently published in Science Advances, shed light on the rituals of the Pazyryk culture in the Altai Mountains of the Tuva Republic, Russia, where frozen tombs dating to approximately 500 BCE were found. These tombs align with Herodotus’ description of small tent gatherings and burning cannabis with hot stones, indicating a similar smoking practice over 3,000 kilometers away from the Jirzankal Cemetery.
Interpreting the Ritual Significance:
Lead archaeologist Meng Ren and colleagues noted the significance of these findings in relation to Herodotus’ accounts. While Herodotus described the use of cannabis smoke as a cleansing ritual after burial ceremonies, the smoking practices observed in both the Pamirs and the Altai mountains appear to be part of burial rituals themselves, potentially serving a different purpose, such as communicating with the divine or the deceased. Alternatively, it is possible that cannabis was used to provide solace and commemorate the life of the departed during funeral ceremonies.
Unveiling Ancient Cannabis Rituals:
The unearthing of these wooden braziers provides intriguing insights into the ancient rituals and cultural practices surrounding cannabis use. As researchers delve deeper into these findings, further revelations may emerge, helping us understand the intricate connections between cannabis, spirituality, and commemoration of the deceased in ancient civilizations. The discoveries made at the Jirzankal Cemetery and the Pazyryk culture add to the growing body of evidence supporting the long-standing and multifaceted use of cannabis throughout history.
The discovery of wooden braziers containing burned cannabinoid residue at the ancient Jirzankal Cemetery reveals the use of cannabis in rituals dating back thousands of years. These findings corroborate accounts from ancient texts and provide a glimpse into the cultural practices of civilizations past. As we continue to explore the archaeological remnants of our ancestors, we gain a deeper understanding of the significance of cannabis in their spiritual and commemorative traditions.