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Prehistoric people using hallucinogens in ritual

Prehistoric people used hallucinogens as part of sacred burial rituals


Unlike modern Man, the prehistoric people of Europe did not use mind-altering substances simply for their hedonistic pleasure. The use of alcohol and plant drugs – such as opium poppies and hallucinogenic mushrooms – was highly regulated and went hand-in-hand with the belief system and sacred burial rituals of many preindustrial societies. Elisa Guerra-Doce of the Universidad de Valladolid in Spain contends that their use was an integral part of prehistoric beliefs, and that these substances were believed to aid in communication with the spiritual world. Guerra-Doce’s research appears in Springer’s Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory.

Despite the fact that the consumption of these substances is as ancient as human society itself, it is only fairly recently that researchers have started to look into the historical and cultural contexts in which mind-altering products were used in Europe. To add to the body of literature about the anthropology of intoxication in prehistoric European societies, Guerra-Doce systematically documented the cultural significance of consuming inebriating substances in these cultures.

In the research, four different types of archaeological documents were examined: the macrofossil remains of the leaves, fruits or seeds of psychoactive plants; residues suggestive of alcoholic beverages; psychoactive alkaloids found in archaeological artifacts and skeletal remains from prehistoric times; and artistic depictions of mood-altering plant species and drinking scenes. These remnants include bits of the opium poppy in the teeth of a male adult in a Neolithic site in Spain, charred Cannabis seeds in bowls found in Romania, traces of barley beer on several ceramic vessels recovered in Iberia, and abstract designs in the Italian Alps that depict the ritual use of hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Ancient relief carving depicting drug use

Ancient relief carving depicting drug use. Photo source.

Because Guerra-Doce mainly found traces of sensory-altering products in tombs and ceremonial places, she believes such substances are strongly linked to ritual usage. They were consumed in order to alter the usual state of consciousness, or even to achieve a trance state. The details of the rituals are still unclear, but the hypothesis is that the substances were either used in the course of mortuary rites, to provide sustenance for the deceased in their journey into the afterlife, or as a kind of tribute to the underworld deities.

She adds that the right to use such substances may have been highly regulated given that they were a means to connect with the spirit world, and therefore played a sacred role among prehistoric European societies.

“Far from being consumed for hedonistic purposes, drug plants and alcoholic drinks had a sacred role among prehistoric societies,” says Guerra-Doce. “It is not surprising that most of the evidence derives from both elite burials and restricted ceremonial sites, suggesting the possibility that the consumption of mind-altering products was socially controlled in prehistoric Europe.”


Guerra-Doce, E. (2014). The Origins of Inebriation: Archaeological Evidence of the Consumption of Fermented Beverages and Drugs in Prehistoric Eurasia. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. DOI 10.1007/s10816-014-9205-z.

Featured image: Ancient drug use. Image source.



sounds plausible . You would have people with these substances and after using some a few times the experiences could be seen as spiritual. So seeing useage when a person/spirit passes is likely as maybe an attempt to communicate or visit. 

My ancestors employed the Amanita Muscaria (Fly Agaric) in order to connect with the Divine.

Before ancestors herded the more docile cattle, they kept deer. They would feed the deer with the mushroom (deer apparently enjoy them). The deer metabolises the toxins and said ancestors would collect the purified wee, wee.

They would collect on a Saturday in the local pub, drink the wee and indulge in a collective connection with God, under the auspices of the village Shaman.

Still today the 5th most common name for a pub in England is "The Stags Head" It was felt that it would have been socially unacceptable to hang a sign saying "The Stags Willy"

The English have some very endearing and quaint terms, like 'getting pissed", which they now use as a term for becoming legless with the more profitable and mind dumbing alcohol.

They used to "get pissed" on deer wee.

All plants, in nature, (Gods garden) have a purpose.

reading about these funerary rites, makes me want to be buried with things that were/are important to me, materialistically(obviously, my family wont be buried with me at the same time). plus, i wouldn't mind helping future archaeologists learn about the time period :)

Just because these things were found in tombs and ceremonial places doesn't in any way imply that they weren't also in common use anywhere else. It's like saying that since today you can find incense in many churches and maybe even someone was buried with some, that it is a highly regulated substance used only for these special purposes.While I could understand that drugs and alcohol may well have been put to use in these ceremonies, there is no reason to believe they were not in common hedonistic use as well.

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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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