The Turpan “Reefer Man” is just the latest evidence that cannabis consumption was very popular along the Silk Road.
Archeologists in China have uncovered a 2,500-year-old gravesite that contains the remains of a man that was draped in freshly harvested marijuana plants—with stems and dangling nugs placed carefully on the body. As first reported in National Geographic, researchers say the “extraordinary cache” helps deepen our understanding of the plant’s ritual and medicinal use in ancient Eurasian cultures.
This is the first time archaeologists have recovered complete cannabis plants, as well as the first incidence of their use as a “shroud” in a human burial.
The remains of the man rested on a wooden pallet with a reed pillow beneath his head. Thirteen cannabis plants up to three feet in height were placed diagonally across his chest, with the top of the flower running from just under his chin, forming a sort of cannabis shroud.
It’s not the first time signs of cannabis have been found in archaeological digs in the region. In 2008, a burial site in nearby Yanghai cemetery turned up turned up nearly a kilogram of cannabis seeds and powdered leaves. Not far to the west, cannabis seeds have also turned up in first millennium B.C.E. Scythian burials in southern Siberia.
But this is the first time archaeologists have uncovered complete cannabis plants and the first time they’ve seen them used as a shroud, Jiang said. Because they are whole plants, researchers can determine that they were grown locally, rather than obtained by trade from elsewhere.
The plants were lying flat on the man’s body, meaning they had been fresh when harvested in the area. Also, most of the flowering buds—interestingly, all females—had been collected, enabling the archaeologists to determine that the burial had occurred in late summer, when the plants would have been mature.
All plants found on the body were female, which suggests they were fully aware of the medicinal properties the female plant carries. Not only that, the remaining buds turned out—even 25 centuries later—to be covered in trichomes and tiny hairs that secrete the resin containing THC and the other cannabinoids.
That and a lack of discoveries of hemp textiles, also led the archaeologists to suggest that the weed had been grown and harvested for its intoxicating properties and could have been smoked or consumed in a beverage for ritual and/or medicinal purposes.