Surprising 5,000-Year-Old Cannabis Trade: Eurasian Steppe Nomads Were Earliest Pot Dealers
The nomad tribe known as the Yamnaya, who were among the founders of the European civilization, may have been the first pot dealers, archaeologists say. Moreover, they were responsible for the first transcontinental trade of cannabis.
The tribe of nomads came from the eastern Steppe region, which is nowadays Russia and Ukraine, and entered Europe about 5,000 years ago, bringing with them herding skills, metallurgy and even the Indo-European languages. According to a recent analysis, they were also responsible for introducing marijuana and establishing the first transcontinental trade of the herb.
Cannabis sativa plant ( Wikimedia Commons )
According to Seeker.com, the research carried out by specialists from the German Archaeological Institute and the Free University of Berlin, involved a systematic review of archaeological and paleo-environmental records of cannabis fibres, pollen and achene across Europe and East Asia. During the study, they concluded that the herb was not first used and domesticated somewhere in China or Central Asia. Rather, it was used in Europe and East Asia at the same time – between 11,500 and 10,200 years ago. As Tengwen Long and Mayke Wagner at the German Archaeological Institute, and Pavel Tarasov at the Free University of Berlin, and colleagues wrote in the journal Vegetation History and Archaeobotany :
"Cannabis seems to have grown as a component of natural vegetation across Eurasia from the early Holocene''.
What is interesting is the fact that while Eurasians in the West made regular use of the herb down the millennia, there are not too many archeological recordings for an early use of cannabis in East Asia. It is known that people quickly discovered the plant's versatility, using it as a medicine, food source, raw fiber material for ropes and textiles and even exploiting its mind-bending properties. However, the discovery of these uses did not appear in the East until later. This occurred about 5,000 years ago, when the use of cannabis intensified in East Asia, as shown in the archeological records. The researchers believe that it could be associated with the '' trans-Eurasian exchange-migration network through the steppe zone''. The fact that cannabis had multiple uses made it an ideal candidate for being a “cash crop before cash”.
Ancient Japanese depiction of a Cannabis plant ( herbmuseum.ca)
Carbonized achenes and signs of cannabis burning were discovered at archeological sites which suggests that the Yamnaya brought the practice of cannabis smoking with them as they spread across Eurasia. Apart from this, bronze objects, technologies, staple food crops such as millets, wheat, and barley, remains of horses, and evidence of pandemic diseases have enabled researches to track the movements of these ancient nomads.
The trade road created by Yamnaya and their neighbors like Botain, became a part of the Silk Road several millennia later. These ancient people created a basis to the trade traditions in Asia.
Bronze artifacts belonging to the Yamnaya culture ( public domain )
While the latest discovery sheds light on the ancient trade of cannabis, it is not the oldest evidence of marijuana ever found. Bryan Hill, a writer of Ancient Origins, reports: ''In 1997, a hemp rope dating back to 26,900 BC was found in Czechoslovakia, making it the oldest known object to be associated with cannabis. Since that time, hemp has played an important role in humanity’s development. For thousands of years marijuana was not only legal, but an important crop among cultures throughout history, and held commercial, medicinal, and spiritual value.
The cultivation of cannabis, commonly known as marijuana, can be traced back at least 12,000 years, which places the plant among humanity's oldest cultivated crops. Cannabis plants are believed to have evolved in Central Asia in the regions of Mongolia and southern Siberia. The earliest cultural evidence of Cannabis comes from the oldest known Neolithic culture in China, the Yangshao, who appeared along the Yellow River valley. From 5,000 to 3,000 B.C the economy of the Yangshao was cannabis-driven. Archaeological evidence shows they wore hemp clothing, wove hemp, and produced hemp pottery.
Yangshao hemp cord-marked amphora, 4800 BC, Shaanxi ( Wikimedia Commons )
The first recorded use of marijuana as a medicinal drug occurred in 2737 BC by the Chinese emperor Shen Nung. He documented the drug’s effectiveness in treating the pains of rheumatism and gout. Both hemp and psychoactive marijuana were widely used in ancient China. The ancient Chinese used virtually every part of the Cannabis plant: the root for medicine; the stem for textiles, rope and paper making; the leaves and flowers for intoxication and medicine; and the seeds for food and oil. Cannabis seeds were also one of the grains of early China and ancient tombs of China had sacrificial vessels filled with hemp for the afterlife.''
Top image: Yamnaya skull from the Samara region colored with red ochre. Credit: Natalia Shishlina.