A new study, released by Vegetation History and Archaeobotany on June 27, 2016, indicates that archaeologists have found traces of cannabis fibers, pollen and achenes (dried seeds or fruit) in Paleolithic Europe and East Asia. The new data indicates the presence of domestic cannabis 5,000 years ago and shatters what we’ve though about the origins of cannabis trade.
Archaeological evidence in the past suggests that sporadic cannabis use, consisting of mostly fossilized pollen and hemp fibers, goes back up to 10,000 years in many parts of the world. The discovery of cannabis achenes, or buds, suggests cannabis smoking. Researchers found cannabis achenes consistently imprinted in ceramics from the sixth millennium BCE through the third millennium BCE. This represents a flux of farmed cannabis and intercontinental trade.
Archaeologists from the Free University of Berlin recently investigated trade routes along the Ural mountains. “A marked increase in cannabis achene records from East Asia between ca. 5,000 and 4,000 cal might be associated with the establishment of a trans-Eurasian exchange/migration network through the steppe zone, influenced by the more intensive exploitation of cannabis achenes popular in Eastern Europe pastoralist communities,” wrote researchers in the study. Their analysis revealed that archeological evidence of cannabis exploration, more than 8,000 years old, had been systematically reported in two distant parts of the world, East Asia and Europe; not China or Central Asia like previously thought.
They found that in Europe, there were records of fossilized pollen and achenes in raw form or imprinted in ceramics were traced to the sixth millennium BCE, all the way up to the third millennium BCE. While in East Asia, large amounts of pollen and hemp fibers existed at the same time. The researchers found that the presence of cannabis achenes are strongly suggestive of the practice of smoking the plant matter, and since they were more prevalent in Europe, it is suggested that cannabis smoking was brought to Eastern Europe by the Yamnaya culture (Indo-European culture originating north of the Black Sea).
The lack of the achenes in the East Asia region until the third and second millennium suggest that cannabis smoking was uncommon in that area until the third and second millennium, also suggesting that the Yamnaya may have brought that practice with them to East Asia around this time.
The Yamna or Yamnaya culture were nomadic hunter-gatherers who roamed Eastern Europe and buried their dead in pits. The Yamnaya lived between 3300 and 2700 BCE. Researchers are unclear whether the Yamnaya used cannabis for its psychoactive properties. Cannabis use by the Yamnaya predates even the Scythians, who inhaled the plant for its effects.
The archaeologists involved are now asking for more research to clarify how, when and why the Yamnaya grew and traded cannabis.