• Allison Guy

Archaeologists Find Cannabis Traces in Ancient Temple

As it turns out, usage of psychoactive substances is nothing new. In fact, it has been happening for thousands of years, as Israeli archaeologists claim to have found cannabis residue on an ancient temple's artifacts located in southern Israel. This discovery is significant because it marks the first evidence of hallucinogenic usage in ancient Jewish religion.

Researchers Eran Arie, Baruch Rosen, and Dvory Namdar published their findings in the journal Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University in a paper entitled "Cannabis and Frankincense at the Judahite Shrine of Arad."

Ancient altar at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Image credit: Israeli Antiques Authority.

Scientists found two altars at the shrine, which are located at the Israel Museum and were in use from about 760 BCE to 715 BCE. After traces of substances from the altars underwent chemical analysis, the scientists concluded that one altar contained traces of frankincense while the other contained traces of cannabis.

An excerpt from the article's abstract reads, "On the smaller altar, residues of cannabinoids such as Δ9-teterahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN) were detected, along with an assortment of terpenes and terpenoids, suggesting that cannabis inflorescences had been burnt on it."

The authors also suggest what role the cannabis may have played, writing, “It seems feasible to suggest that the use of cannabis on the Arad altar had a deliberate psychoactive role. Cannabis odours are not appealing, and do not justify bringing the inflourescences from afar.”

According to the authors' abstract, on the other altar, residues attributed to animal dung were found. This suggests that the dung had been combined with the cannabis resin in order to enable heating.

Eran Arie, lead author of the study and curator of Iron Age archaeology at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, told the Associated Press that the findings were "revolutionary" because it was the "first time we see psychoactive substances in the Judahite region."

Eran Arie, lead author of the study.

“Here, the official state religion of the kingdom of Judah was using this substance," Arie also told the Associated Press. According to Yahoo! News, because of the archaeological site's connection to the ancient monarchy, he suggested the site may point to how ancient Judahites worshipped.

Tel Arad, the location where the altars were found, is about 35 miles south of Jerusalem. The news site also reports that in the 1960s, archaeological excavations at Tel Arad revealed a stronghold that belonged to the kingdom of Judah. At the core of the stronghold, there was a shrine that was similar to the biblical temple in Jerusalem. For years, efforts to analyze the deposits on the limestone altars came up inconclusive.

Tel Arad, the site where the altars were found.

According to Yahoo! News, the lack of cannabis seeds or pollen from the ancient Near East suggests that the cannabis was probably imported from long-distance trade routes in the form of resin, or "hashish," as it is informally called.

Archaeology professor at Hebrew University Yossi Garfinkel told the Associated Press that for the Israelites, it was a "desirable thing to get into ecstasy and connect with God."

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