14 April 2024 The Future is the Product of the Past

First direct evidence of drug use as part of Bronze Age ritual ceremonies in Europe

An analysis of human hair strands recovered from a burial site in Menorca, Spain, reveals that ancient human civilizations used hallucinogenic drugs derived from plants.

According to the researchers, the findings are the first direct evidence of ancient drug use in Europe, which may have been used as part of ritualistic ceremonies.

Previous evidence of prehistoric drug use in Europe was based on indirect evidence, such as the discovery of opium alkaloids in Bronze Age containers, the discovery of drug plant remains in ritualistic contexts, and the appearance of drug plants in artistic depictions.

Researchers detected scopolamine, ephedrine, and atropine in three replicated hair samples.

Atropine and scopolamine are naturally occurring substances in the nightshade plant family that can cause delirium, hallucinations, and altered sensory perception. Ephedrine is a stimulant derived from certain shrubs and pines that can boost excitement, alertness, and physical activity.

Elisa Guerra-Doce and colleagues noted in their study that, considering the potential toxicity of the alkaloids found in the hair, their handling, use, and applications represented highly-specialised knowledge.

Dyeing scene in the funerary chamber. Credit: Oriol Garcia i Quera, ASOME-Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.
Dyeing scene in the funerary chamber. Credit: Oriol Garcia i Quera, ASOME-Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

Authors said: “As early as the Paleolithic period, humans came across the non-food properties of certain plants.

“The results presented here indicate that several alkaloid-bearing plants were consumed by Bronze Age people from Menorca (although Solanaceae and Ephedra were not the only ones to have been consumed).

“Interestingly, the psychoactive substances detected in this study are not suitable for alleviating the pain involved in severe palaeopathological conditions attested in the population buried in the cave of Es Carritx, such as periapical abscesses, severe caries and arthropathies.

The scientists suggest the presence of these substances may have been due to consumption of some nightshade plants, such as mandrake, henbane or thorn apple, and joint pine.

It is thought these drug plants may have been used as part of ritual ceremonies performed by a shaman.

Wooden bowl and spoon found in the hoard with the human hair containers. Credit: Peter Witte, ASOME-Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.
Wooden bowl and spoon found in the hoard with the human hair containers. Credit: Peter Witte, ASOME-Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

According to the researchers, the concentric circles on the wooden containers they were discovered in may have depicted eyes and could have been a metaphor for inner vision related to a drug-induced altered state of consciousness.

Elisa Guerra-Doce and colleagues from Spain’s Universidad de Valladolid examined hair strands from the Es Carritx cave in Menorca, which was first occupied around 3,600 years ago and contained a chamber used as a funeral space until around 2,800 years ago. According to past studies, around 210 individuals were interred in this chamber.

However, only certain people had their hair dyed red, placed in decorative wooden and horn containers, and taken to a different, sealed chamber further back in the cave.

The new research was published in Scientific Reports.

DOI: 10.1038/1598-023-31064-2

Related Articles

Underwater excavations start at 1,700-year-old ancient Black Sea port Kerpe

20 September 2021

20 September 2021

The traces of the ancient harbor on the Black Sea coast of Kerpe, in Kocaeli’s Kandıra district, are being brought...

Climate and Archaic humans caused the extinction of giant camels that lived in Mongolia 27,000 years ago, a study says

3 April 2022

3 April 2022

Camelus knoblochi, a species of giant two-humped camel, survived in Mongolia alongside modern humans—and perhaps Neanderthals and Denisovans—until about 27,000...

On the beach of Herculaneum, a victim of the Vesuvius explosion was discovered with his bag

4 December 2021

4 December 2021

Archaeologists released haunting images Wednesday of the skeletal remains of a man buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in...

Papal bull discovered in a former cemetery dated to the 14th century

10 May 2023

10 May 2023

A medieval bull found in 2021 in Budzistów village (Kołobrzeg district), Poland has been restored and placed on display in...

Shocking Images Appeared As The Waters Recede

8 February 2021

8 February 2021

As the dams recede, the remains of the flooded settlements come to light. This time Kayseri witnessed these images that...

Archaeologists have unearthed two early Aksumite Churches in Africa

11 December 2022

11 December 2022

New discoveries in the port city of Adulis on Eritrea’s Red Sea coast show that two ancient churches discovered more...

30 Graves Found in the Basilica-Planned Ancient City

4 April 2021

4 April 2021

Kibyra ancient city is situated south of Turkey, located in the town Gölhisar in the southwestern part of Burdur Province,...

Ancient rituals recorded on 2,000-year-old bamboo slips deciphered

18 December 2023

18 December 2023

Scholars of China’s Tsinghua University have deciphered five documents recorded on bamboo slips dating back to the Warring States period...

‘World’s oldest dated rune stone’ found in Norway

18 January 2023

18 January 2023

The oldest known Rune stone in Norway has been discovered by Norwegian archaeologists working at the Museum of Cultural History...

Archaeologists say they have found the lost city of Natounia, belonging to the Parthian Empire

20 July 2022

20 July 2022

Researchers suggest they may have identified the lost Parthian city of Natounia in the Zagros Mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. Although...

A 1,700-year-old trident discovered in Assos ancient city in Türkiye

10 October 2023

10 October 2023

An iron trident, believed to be used for fishing, dating to the 3rd or 4th century A.D. has been discovered...

Bronze Age Treasure Found in Swedish Forests

30 April 2021

30 April 2021

A man who studied the forest to make a map for the orienteering club in western Sweden made an incredible...

Poland’s largest megalithic cemetery discovered

3 March 2021

3 March 2021

Archaeologists excavated in Poland discovered a large megalithic complex, including dozens of tombs dating back 5,500 years. The site was...

Fossil of a hominid child who died almost 250,000 years ago discovered in South Africa

8 November 2021

8 November 2021

A team of international and South African researchers uncovered the fossil remains of an early hominid kid who died almost...

Archaeologists discovered an enigmatic complex of rooms, interiors of which covered with figural scenes unique to Christian art

7 April 2023

7 April 2023

Archaeologists of the Polish Center of Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Warsaw discovered an enigmatic complex of rooms made...