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Israeli town of Yavneh

Israeli town of Yavneh had thriving drug culture 3,000 years ago

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Archaeologists discovered traces of hallucinogenic substances used over 3,000 years by the Philistines living in ancient Yavneh, Israel, revealing a drug culture that is believed to have revolved around spiritual rituals.

According to Haaretz in 2015, scientists completed an analysis of findings made in a repository pit in the central Israeli town over  a decade ago. The pit was discovered by accident, just a few hundred meters from the Tel Yavneh archaeological site, where researchers have found evidence for continuous habitation from the second millennium BC up to the Middle Ages.

Tel Yavneh has been an artifact gold mine in the last few years, especially with the find of what was described in a press release as “probably one of the smallest digs ever performed as it was restricted to a repository pit that was only roughly 2 meters across and 1.5 meters deep.”  However, according to Professor Wolfgang Zwickel of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) who was involved with the publication of the study, “what was found here can truly be described as one of the finds of the century."

Tel Yavneh archaeological site

Tel Yavneh archaeological site (Wikimedia Commons)

The pit, which was once part of an Iron Age temple, was first excavated by archaeologist Dr Raz Kletter in 2002, yielding thousands of artifacts used for worship, including small stone and clay alters, vessels, tools, and clay and stone bowls that contained traces of intoxicating plants. 

The research team identified molecules from plants belonging to the Hyoscyamus family, which were preserved in olive oil in their original form. Hyoscyamus plants were historically used for their psychoactive properties in ‘magic brews’ and could elicit visual hallucinations, as well as a sensation of flight. The plant was sometimes combined with other plants to create concoctions used for anesthetics. The findings constitute the oldest known ritual use of the intoxicating Hyoscyamus plant.

Hyoscyamus niger plant

Hyoscyamus niger plant (Wikimedia Commons)

Dr Devori Namdar of the Earth Science institute at Hebrew University, who analyzed the findings, told Haaretz that the Hyoscyamus plant is still used by many Bedouin for its hallucinogenic effects: “It’s an old plant, and it has been documented in literature that Bedouin often chew it, to this day,” she says.

“The use of mind-altering plants and potions as well as hallucinogens was very common in ancient cultures,” reports Hareetz. “The common presumption is that they served as an important part of mystic and spiritual rituals, and gave users intense, ecstatic experiences. Also, the substances are believed to have been used as anaesthetics for religious rituals that involved physical pain.”

Top image: The Tel Yavneh archaeological site, which sits just a few hundred meters from the incineration pit that contained traces of hallucinogenic substances (Wikimedia Commons).

By April Holloway




The plant is Henbane as has a remarkable history of uses to our European Shamans (Christianity: Witches). This plant was one of those used in traditional potions to connect with the divine.


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Joanna Gillan is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. 

Joanna completed a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) degree in Australia and published research in the field of Educational Psychology. She has a rich and varied career, ranging from teaching... Read More

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