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Bronze Age Excavation Unveils Surprising Discovery: Drug Use in Antiquity

An illustration of stone age symbols.

In a groundbreaking discovery, traces of hallucinogenic drug use have been found in the prehistoric burials of Menorca, shedding light on ancient European practices.

Hallucinogenic Drug Use in Ancient Europe: Unveiling the Secrets of Menorcan Burials

New research provides direct evidence of hallucinogenic drug use in ancient Europe, pointing to possible ritualistic consumption. Analyzing locks of human hair from a Menorcan burial site, researchers have discovered the presence of plant-derived alkaloids, unveiling a previously hidden aspect of ancient cultures.

Indirect Evidence No More: A Breakthrough in Prehistoric Drug Use

Prior to this study, evidence of prehistoric drug use in Europe was indirect, relying on the discovery of opium alkaloids in Bronze Age containers, remains of narcotic plants, or artistic depictions. This groundbreaking research offers the first direct evidence of drug use in ancient Europe.

Investigating Es Càrritx Cave: The Key to Unlocking Ancient Drug Use

Researchers, led by Elisa Guerra-Doce of the University of Valladolid, examined hair samples from the Es Càrritx cave in Menorca. The cave, first occupied around 3,600 years ago, served as a burial space until about 2,800 years ago. Unique, red-dyed hair samples dating back approximately 3,000 years were found in wooden and horn containers with concentric circle decorations.

Bronze Age Drugs: Advanced Techniques Reveal Alkaloids in Hair Samples

Utilizing ultrahigh-performance liquid chromatography and high-resolution mass spectroscopy, the team detected the alkaloids atropine, scopolamine, and ephedrine. Naturally occurring in the nightshade family, atropine and scopolamine can induce delusions, hallucinations, and altered sensory perception. Ephedrine, derived from certain shrubs and pine trees, acts as a stimulant, increasing arousal, alertness, and physical activity.

Possible Ritual Ceremonies: Shaman and Medicinal Plants and Bronze Age Drugs

Researchers believe the presence of the Bronze Age drugs may indicate consumption of Solanaceae plants, such as mandrake, henbane, or prickly apple, and stone pine. It is suggested that these medicinal plants were used in ritual ceremonies led by a shaman. The concentric circles on the containers could symbolize eyes, reflecting inner vision associated with drug-induced altered states of consciousness.

Preserving Ancient Traditions: Sealed Containers and Cultural Changes

As cultural changes took place around 2,800 years ago, the authors theorize that the wooden containers were sealed within the cave chamber to protect these ancient customs. This groundbreaking research offers a new perspective on ancient European cultures and their use of hallucinogenic substances.

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