New research on hair samples found in a Menorcan burial site provides the first direct evidence of hallucinogenic drug use in ancient European cultures. This groundbreaking discovery suggests that these mind-altering substances played a role in ritual ceremonies.
Indirect Evidence vs. Direct Discovery
Prior to this study, evidence of prehistoric drug use in Europe was primarily indirect, including opium alkaloids detected in Bronze Age containers and artistic representations of narcotic plants. However, recent findings published in Scientific Reports have changed the narrative.
Menorca’s Es Càrritx Cave: Unearthing Ancient Secrets
Elisa Guerra-Doce and her team of researchers from the University of Valladolid analyzed red-dyed hair locks found in wooden and horn containers in Menorca’s Es Càrritx cave. The chamber, occupied around 3,600 years ago, served as a burial space until approximately 2,800 years ago.
Cutting-Edge Techniques Detect Alkaloids
Using ultrahigh-performance liquid chromatography and high-resolution mass spectroscopy, researchers identified the presence of atropine, scopolamine, and ephedrine alkaloids. These compounds, known to cause hallucinations and alter sensory perception, point to the consumption of certain plants.
Shaman Rituals: A Key to Altered States
The researchers speculate that the consumption of Solanaceae plants, such as mandrake, henbane, or prickly apple, and stone pine, could have been part of shaman-led ritual ceremonies. The concentric circles on the wooden containers may symbolize inner vision associated with drug-induced altered states of consciousness.
Preserving Ancient Traditions
As cultural shifts occurred around 2,800 years ago, the wooden containers were sealed in the cave chamber, potentially to preserve these ancient traditions for future generations. This groundbreaking discovery sheds light on the role of hallucinogenic drugs in ancient European cultures.
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