Paraphernalia Discovered in Bolivian Cave Shows Ancient Ayahuasca Use
In 2001, American rapper Afroman released the sensational song “Because I Got High” in which he almost “cleaned his room” but got “high” instead. Now, it would appear that ancient cultures in South America were also going to clean their caves, but got “high”.
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, have published a paper by an international group of archaeologists led by Melanie Miller of the University of Otago in New Zealand detailing their discovery of a rare hoard of shamanic ritual tools including evidence of psychedelic drug use including ayahuasca.
The researchers found a ritual bundle in the Cueva del Chileno rock shelter located in southwestern Bolivia. (José Capriles et al, Penn State)
The “obsidian devices” and a hearth were excavated between 2008-2010 from a rock shelter called Cueva del Chileno in the highlands of southwestern Bolivia that was first inhabited around 2000 BC. The researchers found a ritual deposit including “turquoise beads, colored strings, cut braids of human hair,” but then they found “a peculiar bundle” which suggests the region is perhaps not only called the “highlands” after its altitude! The archaeologists found evidence that proves hallucinogenic drugs were being experimented with more than a thousand years ago.
Ritual bundle with leather bag, carved wooden snuff tablets and snuff tube with human hair braids, pouch made of three fox snouts, camelid bone spatulas, colorful textile headband and wool and fiber strings. (Photos courtesy of Juan Albarracín-Jordán and José Capriles.)
The researchers write that the “The ritual bundle” was found inside a large leather bag containing “two expertly carved and decorated wooden snuffing tablets with anthropomorphic figurines, an intricate anthropomorphic snuffing tube with two real human hair braids attached to it, two camelid bone spatulas, a colorful woven textile thought to be a headband, two small pieces of dried plant material attached to wool and fiber strings, and an unusual animal-skin pouch constructed of three fox snouts stitched together.”
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Pouch constructed of three fox snouts stitched together (foreground), and a colorful textile headband. (José Capriles et al, Penn State)
What Is Known About The Cave Of The Ancient Trippers?
It is known that the cave enclosure was used in funerary rites, but because no mummies were uncovered archaeologists concluded that “they were desecrated and the enclosure destroyed,” according to the paper. As the nature of the site evolved and became pastoral it was subsequently covered with sheep and llama dung.
A sample from the leather bag carbon-14 dated to 905-1170 AD, when the Tiwanaku state, one of the largest and most significant pre-hispanic societies in the Andes, was disintegrating and the Inca of Peru were on the rise.
Looking closer at the drugs paraphernalia, Sara Juengst, a bioarchaeologist at UNC Charlotte told reporters at Forbes that she is “impressed by the finding” because “I've never heard of a snuff container made from multiple fox snouts.” To her knowledge no similar such bundle has ever been found which she says is “significant.”
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Smaller carved snuffing tablet. (José Capriles et al, Penn State)
Scientists also tested a scraping from the fox-snout pouch and from a plant stem upon which they found "multiple psychotropic compounds” from multiple psychoactive plants. The fox-snout pouch alone held traces of at least five psychotropic compounds: “cocaine, benzoylecgonine, harmine, bufotenin, and dimethyltryptamine (DMT),” said the researchers.
And if any of you think that the reposts are being sensational and that the plants were medicinal the researchers say:
“this combination of five different hallucinogenic chemical compounds was used with the intent to create shamanic hallucinations, rather than medical treatment.”
These substances were used by shaman to form psychological unions with their own emotions, which were perceived as spirits and entities, then presented to locals within spiritual and deeply religious contexts. What is cool here is that the discovery might be the first evidence of ayahuasca use which is a general term for a range of psychotropic concoctions that cause intense hallucinogenic experiences.
Intricately carved figure on a delicate snuffing tube. (José Capriles et al, Penn State)
“It is likely that shamans ingested plants containing harmine and DMT simultaneously,” Miller and colleagues explain, and this is not surprising as still today the thousands of North Americans who flock to South America to do ayahuasca think it is one substance, where in reality it is always a compound of three or more.
Several ingredients are used to make a brew of ‘ayahuasca’. (Eskymaks / Adobe Stock)
Where Might One Find Such Magic Plants?
The researchers say the plants came “from different regions” and, if plants were being transported around the ancient world so too were many other ritual items. And what is more, the “multiple” psychoactive plants found together in one artifact tells archaeologists that not only were hallucinogenic plants and ritual objects traded and shared across vast distances, but to mix and activate the properties of the plants, complex botanical knowledge including temperatures and quantities must have been shared.
And that is the real mystery - when no formal writing existed, and they all spoke different languages.
Top image: Psychedelic substances including those used by ayahuasca shaman have been found in Bolivia Source: Ammit / Adobe Stock
By Ashley Cowie