Ancient Highs

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Israeli archaeologists recently discovered traces of opium in a number of ceramic artifacts dating to the 14th century BCE, possibly the earliest known evidence of the drug in the ancient world, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

Researchers initially found the ancient pottery vessels at a burial site in Tel Yehud, a town seven miles from Tel Aviv, in 2012. They noted that the vessels were shaped like inverted poppy flowers, the plant that produces opium.

They wrote in a new study that they found traces of the drug in eight of the artifacts, adding that some of the vessels were imported from Cyprus.

The team theorized that the opium was used during burial ceremonies and was part of some kind of end-of-life ritual. They also suggested that the narcotic could have been employed “to help the person’s spirit rise from the grave in preparation for the meeting with their relatives in the next life.”

The opium poppy is one of the oldest medicinal plants in history. Still, the authors said the findings highlight possibly the earliest evidence that the opium substance was used in the Old World.

Even so, the use of narcotics was not unusual in the ancient Levant.

In 2020, another research team identified cannabis residue on an altar at Tel Arad dating to the eighth century BCE.

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