Researchers in Israel have found traces of opium in ceramic artifacts from the 14th century BC. discovered – the earliest known evidence of the drug in antiquity.
The ceramic vessels in the shape of inverted poppies were originally discovered during a 2012 excavation in Tel Yehud, an Israeli city about 11 km from Tel Aviv. The poppy plant produces opium, prompting researchers to examine the Late Bronze Age artifacts for drug residues.
Now their findings are the subject of a new study published in the journal archaeometry. Researchers from the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Weizmann Institute of Science and Tel Aviv University were able to identify traces of the hallucinogenic drug in eight of the vessels; Some of them were imported from Cyrpus while others were local.
The vessels were discovered in a Canaanite tomb, and archaeologists suggest that the opium may be associated with some kind of end-of-life ritual.
“It may be that during these ceremonies, performed by family members or a priest on their behalf, the participants attempted to lift the spirits of their deceased relatives to express a request and fell into an ecstatic state by consuming opium says Ron Be’eriof of the Israel Antiquities Authority in a statement announcing the discovery.
Or perhaps, he adds, the opium “may have been intended to help the person’s spirit rise from the grave in preparation for meeting their relatives in the next life.”
“This is the first empirical physical evidence for the use of opium in the Levant in the Late Bronze Age,” says Vanessa Linares, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University and lead author of the study times of Israelby Amanda Borschel-Dan. “This is the first clearly identifiable opium use in the Levant – and I would say even in the Old World.”
The opium poppy is one of the oldest medicinal plants in history. And while researchers believe the drug’s history stretches even further back in time, the new discovery is the earliest evidence of the substance itself. In this case, experts are hypothesizing that the opium originated in modern-day Turkey, next through Cyprus and all the way to Israel – which “underscores the complexity and size of the vast international trade networks of the time”. hairnetwrites Ariel David.
In 2020, researchers discovered cannabis residues dating from the 8th century BC on an altar in Tel Arad. However, the newly discovered opium residues are about 600 years older.