A group of researchers has unearthed the oldest ‘clear evidence’ of marijuana smoking in the mountains of western China, in a 2500-year-old burial ground known as the Jirzankal cemetery.
Reportedly, residues of high potency cannabis were traced on scorched wooden incense burners — and charred pebbles found inside them — found at the ancient site.
Researchers are of the view that stones were first heated in a fire before being taken to the cemetery, where they were covered with high potency cannabis leaves that released psychoactive smoke during the funeral ritual.
“Almost all braziers comprise the biomarkers of marijuana and one brazier is severely burned, meaning that the braziers were being used during funeral rituals, probably to communicate with spirits of deceased people or nature,” wrote one of the scientists, Yimin Yang, in the Journal Science Advances.
The biomarker that the researchers are talking about here is cannabinol, a compound that’s produced when tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive chemical in marijuana that gives you a ‘high’, is oxidized. However, biomarkers for the breakdown of other cannabinoids were not found; so the researchers are assuming that the plants were deliberately selected to be high in THC – whether they were found in the wild or cultivated is still a question that looms.
Apart from wooden burners and blackened stones, researchers also excavated glass beads, pieces of silk and a Chinese harp – an instrument that generally featured in ancient sacrificial ceremonies. Although the human remains found at the cemetery haven’t been studied in detail, some skulls have holes and ‘apparently’ deep cuts and breaks to their bones, pointing to the possibility that at least some of the dead were sacrificed.
Notably, the Jirzankal cemetery sits more than 9,800ft above the sea level. The entrances to individual tombs at the burial site are marked by mounds surrounded by stone circles. The wooden braziers, however, were seen in the more elite tombs, the researchers said.