Ancient Cannabis 'Burial Shroud' Unearthed in China

By | Oct 05, 2016 09:00 AM EDT
A worker packs cannabis at the growing facility of the Tikun Olam company on March 7, 2011 near the northern city of Safed, Israel.

A worker packs cannabis at the growing facility of the Tikun Olam company on March 7, 2011 near the northern city of Safed, Israel.(Photo : Getty Images)

Archaeologists have unearthed an "extraordinary cache" of cannabis buried at the Jiaya cemetery in China's Turpan Basin, saying that the recent discovery could considerably shed light on how ancient Eurasian cultures used cannabis.

"This unique discovery provides new insight into the ritualistic use of Cannabis in prehistoric Central Eurasia," the archaeologists wrote in a paper published in the journal Economic Botany.

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The cannabis plants were found in a burial of an approximately 35-year-old adult man with Caucasian features, who had been placed on a wooden bed with a reed pillow beneath his head, Hongen Jiang and his colleagues wrote.

Then, interestingly, at least 13 preserved cannabis plants, each up to about three feet long, were laid diagonally across his chest, and all are reportedly in excellent conditions, the National Geographic reported.

The remains suggest that the man was buried between 2,400 and 2,800 years ago, based on the radiocarbon dating. During that time, the Turpan Basin is the home of the Gushi Kingdom, while the Turpan desert oasis was deemed an important stop on the Silk Road, according to ZME Science.

Researchers believe that the man belonged to a group who used cannabis for health and ritual purposes.

While researchers could not determine if the cannabis plant parts found in Turpan before were grown locally or obtained through trading from other regions, the recent discovery in the Jiayi burial implicate that the cannabis had been fresh and could have been possibly harvested for the burial.

Furthermore, while the flowering heads of the 13 female plants have been removed, the few that were left were nearly ripe and had immature fruit. This could suggest that the plants were planted locally and gathered the same time the burial occurred.

This is the first instance whole marijuana plants were uncovered and the first incidence of their use as a "shroud" or covering in a human burial. Archaeologists before have found about two pounds of cannabis seeds and powdered leaves in other Turpan graves.

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