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The 3000 year old Scythian gold ritual vessel is on action. Source: Timeline / Fair Use.

Golden Vessel Used In Scythian Drug-Fueled Rituals Is Expected to Sell for $57K At Auction


A remarkable tiny golden vessel is going on auction in London. The item comes from the nomadic Scythian culture, who once dominated the Eurasian Steppe in classical times. It is valued at 45,000 GBP or $57,000 and is being sold by Timeline Auctioneers.

What is striking about this vessel is that it is similar to others that contain traces of cannabis and opium. The artifact is providing more evidence indicating that the ancient nomads used powerful drugs.

The object is just a “3 inch (7.6 centimeters) vessel, which weighs just 4.4 ounces (125 grams)” according to the Daily Mail. It is made from gold and is the work of master craft persons. The vessel is in the shape of a cone and is decorated with what appears to be a leaf design.

At the bottom of the vessel is a small aperture or hole. It is being put up to auction by a European collector who appears to have obtained it from another collector in North America. Before this no-one really knows who owned the precious golden object.

The Scythian ritual vessel is in the shape of a cone and is decorated with what appears to be a leaf design (Timeline / Fair Use)

The Scythian ritual vessel is in the shape of a cone and is decorated with what appears to be a leaf design (Timeline / Fair Use)

The Scythians Warriors of the Steppes

This vessel, based on its design, is almost certainly Scythian. These were Iranian nomads who dominated much of Eurasia from China to Poland. They were fierce warriors, who were great horseback archers, and who were accused of practicing human sacrifice and drinking the blood of slain warriors.

Many, including the Assyrians, considered them to be near invincible in battle and they even defied the mighty Achaemenid Persian Empire. They were renowned for their skills as artisans and this is evident from their lavish grave goods.

Scythian archer. (Lunstream / Adobe)

Scythian archer. (Lunstream / Adobe)

The Scythians established a large Empire and often traded with the Greek cities in the Crimea. These nomads played a crucial role in the development of the Silk Road. They were eventually superseded by other nomads known as the Sarmatians.

The item is very similar to other objects that have been recently excavated from Scythian kurgans or mounds in the Steppes of Russia and Ukraine. They were found with an “a black residue inside that, when tested, was discovered to be a mixture of cannabis and opium” according to the Daily Mail.
It appears that the vessel being sold was designed to allow the ancient nomads to smoke opium and cannabis. The Daily Mail quotes the managing director of the auction house selling the object, Chris Wren, stating that the object “shows that clearly, drugs are not just a modern problem!”

Drugs and the Scythians

Some drugs have been found in their kurgans or burial mounds. In the burial mound of one Scythian warrior, cannabis was found among the grave goods. According to the British Museum “like many cultures, the Scythians drank to excess and got high.” It is also known that the nomads used hemp in hot baths and the vapors from the water would have intoxicated the bathers.

However, it seems likely that the conical vessel was used for ritual purposes. We know quite a bit about the culture of these nomads from the Greek Historian Herodotus (490-425 BC). He recorded that the Scythians, like other nomads, had a shamanic religion and that their shamans were known as Enaree or Anaree.

Drug taking is frequently a feature of shamanic religions because it is believed to allow individuals to become one with the deities or to enter the spirit world. Given the fact that the vessel is made of gold, it seems likely that it was not used in feasts or just to get high.

More probable it was used in some religious ceremonies. Herodotus, who is often regarded as the father of history, reports in his work that the Scythians engaged in drug-fueled rituals.

The vessel is not only an important piece of nomadic art, but it is also of real historical importance. It is another piece of evidence that shows the importance of drug-taking in Scythian culture and religion. The study of objects such as this conical vessel is very important, for our understanding of the Scythians. This is because the nomads were not a literate culture and left no written historical documents.

Example of Scythian art, gold neckpiece, from a royal kurgan, 4th century BC. (AeroSSC / Public Domain)

Example of Scythian art, gold neckpiece, from a royal kurgan, 4th century BC. (AeroSSC / Public Domain)

Top image: The 3000 year old Scythian gold ritual vessel is on action. Source: Timeline / Fair Use.

By Ed Whelan



Although this article does not mention cocaine, as you say, I believe it is an established fact now that nicotine and cocaine existed in ancient Egypt.

Homo sapiens has existed on Earth for 300,000 years. We have merely a very sketchy idea of the last couple thousand years, and even that was all written by the victors. And much of what was written was later destroyed, like how the Arabs burned every last book in Persia, or Caesar in Alexandria, or the Mongols in Persia again.

The truth is that we just don't know. Was there a global civilization with advanced technology some time during those 300k years? No? Then who carved the thousand ton stone blocks of Baalbek? Who was building pyramids in Mexico and Egypt at the same time? Why did they stop building pyramids there, also at the same time?

We just don't know.

Gary Moran's picture

It’s amazing to me that with so many discoveries of cocaine use in the ‘Old World’ that so many academics still don’t want to believe that those cultures found the Americas.  How else could they have gotten it, pigeons?

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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