A group of archaeologists has just discovered a thousand-year-old tomb in China with abundant remains of THC and other cannabinoids
Although there is a lot of written documentation about the millenary use of cannabis in China and all the adjacent regions, the really difficult, almost impossible, was to obtain physical evidence that demonstrates the use of this plant by humans thousands of years ago.
This is because the different cannabinoids found in a cannabis plant can only remain in the body for a few weeks; maybe some months. But we are talking about a new archaeological discovery that contains very high remains of THC and other cannabinoids, which have remained attached to utensils used for rituals.
Because, although cannabis can remain in the body of humans only a few weeks, it can remain attached to certain minerals and wood for millennia.
Was there breeders of cannabis in China thousands of years ago?
With this new archaeological discovery, cannabis use has been scientifically demonstrated among humans for thousands of years in Central Asia. But the conclusions of the scientists go even further. It is believed that thousands of years ago there were geneticists (breeders) who selected different cannabis genetics that came from plants brought through the legendary “silk route”.
This could be deduced because among the remains of cannabinoids found in the excavation of the Jirzankal cemetery, too high levels of a cannabinoid called CBN have been detected, which is very rare in cannabis plants in general, and in plants of cannabis from that particular area.
The remains of cannabis have been found in braziers that were in the cemetery excavated in this area of China; in the Pamir mountains. The archaeologists who have directed the project are Robert Spengler, archaeobotanist of the Max Planck Institute for Human Science, in Germany, Yimin Yang, researcher at the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Hongen Jiang. These researchers from China and Germany have published their findings in the prestigious journal “Science Advances”.
In 2006 another important study was carried out, as marijuana seeds were found in another ancient Chinese tomb. But the presence of seeds does not show that the plant has been consumed for intoxicating purposes. Contrary to what happened in the tomb recently discovered in China by archaeologists Max Planck, Hongen Jiang and Yimin Yang in the Pamir Mountains.
Because the fact of finding such high levels of THC in burners implies that the Chinese knew that in order for the cannabis plant to have psychoactive effects, it must be heated; usually with fire.
The Route of silk
The finding is of extraordinary importance, precisely because of the very high levels of THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, which remained in the braziers. It demonstrates the use of cannabis throughout this area for thousands of years. And perhaps the most curious thing is the area to which we refer. Indeed, connecting this finding with previous ones we can conclude that the cemetery was located in the old Silk Road.
We can deduce it by its geographical location but also by the high contents of CBN and the low levels of CBD found in the braziers that, as we have said, are not normal in the original plants of this area. The researchers believe that, through the silk route, seeds of cannabis-rich varieties were brought into this cannabinoid whose medicinal properties are very important.
Merlin, professor of botany at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, believes that the high levels of THC found confirms definitively that cannabis has been consumed for thousands of years for ceremonial and, probably, spiritual purposes; to communicate with the deities.
The prestigious archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi also made excavations in Turkmenistan, precisely where the silk route passed, in which he found remains of ritual plants in ceramic containers that, very probably, could have been used to make hallucinogenic potions.
Until a few years ago, we had to content ourselves with the historical accounts of writers and travelers like Herodotus, who was already writing about the psychoactive use of cannabis by the peoples of Central Asia. But now we have irrefutable scientific evidence. The large quantities of THC found in this last excavation leave no room for doubt. The Chinese, and almost certainly all millenary cultures, have used cannabis for different purposes.
But in addition, in this excavation human remains have been found that were not from the area of the find. This suggests a migration dynamic that takes us back to the Silk Road. Thanks to this ancient route, people, with their traditions and their goods, moved along thousands of kilometers.
Hongen Jiang, co-author of the new article, talks about a 2016 archaeological discovery that reinforces this theory. In fact, in 2016, another thousand-year-old tomb was discovered in northwest China, where numerous cannabis sativa plants were found.
All research is small if we want to discover the role of cannabis along this route of almost 8,000 kilometers of distance throughout Central Asia, to reach China and through the Pamir, for millennia.
Much remains to be discovered about the uses of cannabis in ancient times. Was it used for medicinal, spiritual, recreational purposes? Maybe it was used for all three reasons? How was the selection of certain genetics by the breeders of that time? What motivated them to cross the different landraces along the Silk Road? We still need new discoveries to learn more about the use and consumption of this sacred plant for many cultures.
If you want to study more deeply the relationship between cannabis in ancient China and the current one, we recommend you read our article: “Evolution of marijuana in China since ancient times until today” .