Material found on two altars at the entrance of an ancient Judahite shrine at Beersheba Valley, in Israel’s Tel Arad found in 1963 – described as the “Holy of the Holies” – contained cannabis and frankincense, according to a study published in the Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University.
The study authors said it was the first time physical evidence of cannabis has been found in the Ancient Near East.
The researchers concluded that the substance on the smaller altar contained “residues of cannabinoids,” including THC, CBD, and CBN “along with an assortment of terpenes and terpenoids, suggesting that cannabis inflorescences had been burnt on it.” The altar also contained residues attributed to animal dung “suggesting that the cannabis resin had been mixed with dung to enable mild heating,” the study says.
Lead author Eran Arie, curator of Iron Age and Persian Periods archaeology in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, told CNN that “around the world … many cultures used hallucinogenic materials and ingredients in order to get into some kind of religious ecstasy” but finding cannabis “in an official cult place of Judah says something new about the cult of Judah,” namely “the use of mind-altering substances” as part of the cult rituals.
“As the terpenoids detected are not unique to cannabis and may be found abundantly in many other local plants, it is likely that the cannabis burnt on the altar was not imported for its smell or therapeutic virtues but for its mind-altering abilities, expressed only by heating.” – “Cannabis and Frankincense at the Judahite Shrine of Arad,” May, 28 2020
The site was excavated between 1962−1967 on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
In 2019, archaeologists in China discovered evidence of human cannabis use and cultivation dating back to 500 B.C. Those researchers concluded that cannabis appears to have been used during burial rituals. That study suggests “that the ritualistic ‘smoking’ of cannabis was gradually popularized from the elite class to the common people in the eastern Pamirs in China at least 2,500 years ago,” since those buried at the plot do not appear to be of the upper class.
The Israeli researchers note that evidence of cannabis consumption for both medical use and mind-altering experiences is well-documented by anthropologists.
Members of India’s Gaddi tribe of the western Himalayas, for example, smoked cannabis for the hallucinations it induced. In the Buganda kingdom of Africa and the Kanabad village in Pakistan, tribe members smoked cannabis to induce a state of euphoria. The Tenetehara of Brazil also smoked the flowers and the leaves for their psychoactive effects.
In Africa, the Sotho smoked the leaves and other parts of the plant for its pain-relieving qualities. In Morocco, midwives used cannabis smoke to induce abortion in pregnant women wishing to terminate their pregnancy.
In 1993, archeologists in Jerusalem uncovered a cave dating to the 4th century CE and found the remains of a 14-year-old girl who died during childbirth. She was discovered with the skeleton of a 40-week fetus trapped in her pelvis and a juglet with black material in it was retrieved near the skeletons. The analysis of the material revealed the presence of THC and CBD. Researchers concluded that the purpose of feeding the cannabis to the girl (by inhalation) was to increase the force of uterine contractions and to reduce birth pain.