Archaeologists Are Surprised to Find a 2,500-Year-Old Cannabis Burial Shroud Found in China

Archaeologists Are Surprised to Find a 2,500-Year-Old Cannabis Burial Shroud Found in China

(Read the article on one page)

Thirteen cannabis plants were found covering the body of a man who was buried in Turpan, China, around 2,500 years ago. This is the first time archaeologists have discovered a quantity of well-preserved cannabis plants and it provides information on how the plant was used in ancient Eurasian cultures.

National Geographic reports that the plants were placed across the 35-year-old man’s chest with their roots below his pelvis and the tops of the plants reaching up past his chin to the left side of his face – as if they were a shroud. Each plant measures about 3 feet (0.91 meters) long.

The researchers’ article on the discovery in the journal Economic Botany argues that:

“This unique discovery provides new insight into the ritualistic use of Cannabis in prehistoric Central Eurasia. Furthermore, the fragmented infructescences of Cannabis discovered in other tombs of the Jiayi cemetery, together with similar Cannabis remains recovered from coeval tombs in the ancient Turpan cemetery along with those found in the Altai Mountains region, reveal that Cannabis was used by the local Central Eurasian people for ritual and/or medicinal purposes in the first millennium before the Christian era.”

The grave of the man found with a “cannabis shroud” in the Jiayi cemetery, China.

The grave of the man found with a “cannabis shroud” in the Jiayi cemetery, China. ( Hongen Jiang )

A previous example of cannabis found in a burial comes from nearby Yanghai cemetery – where the herb was discovered nearly a decade ago . That grave contained almost two pounds of cannabis seeds and powdered leaves.

Regarding the Altai Mountains region , another grave which was found to contain cannabis belonged to the famous Siberian Ice Maiden, who is also known as the Princess of Ukok and the Altai Princess of Ochi-Bala. This burial has been dated back about 2,500 years and was found in 1993 in a kurgan (mound) of the Pazyryk culture in the Republic of Altai, Russia. It has been suggested that the cannabis found near the mummified woman’s remains may have been used to help her cope with breast cancer.

Reconstruction of the Princess of Ukok’s face.

Reconstruction of the Princess of Ukok’s face. ( Public Domain )

But what makes the recently discovered cannabis shroud unique is that it provides the first example of complete cannabis plants found in the archaeological record. This is also the first time that the plant has been found acting as a burial shroud.

According to China Topix , the man with the cannabis shroud was found placed on a wooden bed with a reed pillow beneath his head. He is said to have Caucasian features and his grave is one of 240 burials which were excavated at the Jiayi cemetery of Turpan.

Some of the plants which were found laid across the man’s chest as a shroud.

Some of the plants which were found laid across the man’s chest as a shroud. ( Hongen Jiang )

Radiometric dating of the tomb and the archeobotanical remains within it shows an age of about 2800–2400 years old. At that time, the area was occupied by the Gushi Kingdom and the desert oasis was an important location on the Silk Road .

With the importance of the site on the trade route, Hongen Jiang and the rest of the team of researchers wondered if the plant was locally-sourced or came from another location. National Geographic reports that the fact that the plants were found flat on the man’s body led the archaeologists to decide they were fresh when they were placed in his grave – and therefore were local.

Detail showing the “cannabis shroud”.

Detail showing the “cannabis shroud”. ( Hongen Jiang )

Moreover, a few of the plants had flowering heads which were nearly ripe and had immature fruit. This allowed the researchers to conclude that the man was buried in late summer. The flowering heads of the cannabis plants also provided inspiration for the researchers in deciding the common purpose of plant in the region at the time of the man’s burial.

It is believed that there were three general uses for the cannabis plant in that location during that time period: as a psychoactive substance, for textiles via hemp fibers, and as a food source with its seeds. However, as Jiang noted to National Geographic, “no hemp textiles have been found in Turpan burials, and the seeds of the plants in the Jiayi burial are too small to serve as a practical food source.”

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Myths & Legends

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article