Earliest traces of opium use found in Israel may have been an offering to the gods
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Earliesttraces of opium use, found in Israel, may have been an 'offering to the gods'
Theearliest evidence of opium usage in the ancient world has been discovered at aburial site in central Israel that dates to around 14th century B.C., duringthe Late Bronze Age.
Residue ofthe narcotic, which is made using the seed capsules of the poppy plant, wasfound inside more than a half dozen 3,500-year-old pottery vessels at the site,which is located at Tel Yehud just outside Tel Aviv, a region formerly known asCanaan.
Archaeologistsfrom the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Weizmann Institute of Sciencediscovered the pit tomb during an excavation in 2012. However, they found theopium-laced pottery, alongside the skeletal remains of a male who died between40 and 50 years of age, on a return excavation in 2017, according to a studypublished July 2 in the journal Archaeometry (opens in new tab).
Aftertesting 22 storage jars and juglets using chemical analysis, the researchersdiscovered that eight of the ceramic vessels contained trace amounts of thehighly addictive drug. Of the pieces that tested positive, several lookedsimilar to the bulbous shape of an inverted poppy capsule. Some of the potterywas imported from the island of Cyprus, located west of Tel Yehud, theresearchers determined, noting clay bands on the long-necked vessels and otherdistinctive decorations related to pottery from that area.
"Therewas a hypothesis in 2017 that because some of the jugs resembled poppies, thatthey might contain opium," Vanessa Linares, a doctoral candidate at Tel Aviv Universityand the study's lead author, told Live Science. "We found that was thecase and that opium was contained inside some of the vessels."
While it'snot clear why opium was part of this particular burial, Linares saidresearchers have several theories based on historical documentation from otherancient civilizations around the world.
"Accordingto the historical and written record, we see that Sumerian priests used opiumto reach a higher state of spirituality, while the Egyptians reserved opium forwarriors as well as priests, possibly using it not only to have a psychoactiveeffect but also for medicinal processes, since its main compound is morphine,which is used to help with pain," Linares said.
"Perhapsit was also there as an offering for the gods, and maybe they thought that thedeceased would need it in the afterlife," she added. "I think we canmake a lot of speculations and suggestions for why it was there."