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        The Role of Drugs in Prehistory:


The numerous examples of 'drug' use in prehistory suggests that they may have played an important role in our imaginative development. For example, we now know that the flowers associated with Neanderthal burials had psychoactive properties (Leroi-Gouriian 1984)

The question is not whether drugs were used in prehistory, but rather - to what extent and what for. Prehistoric rock-art and shamanic imagery suggest that humans have been using mind altering substances for thousands of years. It is even suggested that they may have played an evolutionary role in our mental development.




   Evidence for Drug use in Prehistory:

In 1988, David Lewis-Williams of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, launched one of archaeology's longest-running controversies when he proposed that the vivid cave paintings of Upper Paleolithic Europe were produced by shamans whose consciousness had been altered by drugs or self-induced trances. (10) The following examples suggest that his proposition may have substance.


Drugs and Shamanism.

In his book 'Supernatural', Graham Hancock makes the case that shamanic experiences led to the sudden development of art, symbolic thinking, and early civilization (pp. 29-31).

Whether we find its traces in Australia, Asia Africa, or Europe, it is simply impossible to overstate the uniqueness and peculiarity of the evolutionary event by which we were drawn into fully modern consciousness and the fully modern capacity for symbolism and culture, religion, and art. No ancestor in the human lineage had ever made use of any form of symbolism before, and needless to say, no other animal species had ever done so either. But the switching-on of humanity's symbol-making capacity between approximately 100,000 and 40,000 years ago was the change that changed everything.

(More about Shamanism)


The Pineal Gland.

There are numerous depictions of 'cobs' or 'pine-cones' in ancient and sacred art. The pine-cone has a strong symbolism, being a reference to the 'Third-eye' or 'pineal-gland', so named because of its similarity in shape. The pine-cone is traditionally associated with immortality and knowledge. The Pineal gland is activated by Light, and it controls the various biorhythms of the body. It works in harmony with the hypothalamus gland, which directs the body's thirst, hunger, sexual desire and the biological clock, that determines our aging process.

"E. A. Wallis Budge has noted that in some of the papyri illustrating the entrance of the souls of the dead into the judgment hall of Osiris the deceased person has a pine cone attached to the crown of his head. The Greek mystics also carried a symbolic staff, the upper end being in the form of a pine cone, which was called the thyrsus of Bacchus. In the human brain there is a tiny gland called the pineal body, which is the sacred eye of the ancients, and corresponds to the third eye of the Cyclops. " Manly P. Hall.

The Egyptian Staff of Osiris, dating back to approximately 1224 BC, depicts two intertwining serpents rising up to meet at a pin-econe.

(Photo: Egyptian Museum, Turin, Italy)

Modern scholars and philosophers have noted the staff�s symbolic parallels to the Indian �Kundalini,� a spiritual energy in the body depicted as coiled serpents rising up from the base of the spine to the Third Eye (Pineal Gland) in the moment of enlightenment. Awakened Kundalini represents the merging and alignment of the Chakras, and is said to be the one and only way to attain the �Divine Wisdom� brining pure joy, pure knowledge and pure love.

In 1997, British Dr. Jennifer Luke extensively documented the Pineal Gland as the primary target for Fluoride accumulation in our bodies (5), where it calcifies the Pineal, inhibiting blood flow and �clogging� the basic functions of our Third Eye. By feeding the public Fluoride from birth, critics claim that our greater spiritual abilities are being dulled by chemically clouding our biological portal to spiritual awareness.

The Psychopharmacologist Rick Strassman believes the Third Eye/Pineal Gland to be the source of the psychedelic Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) in our bodies
(6). Strassman has hypothesized that large amounts of DMT are released in our bodies during heightened states of spiritual consciousness, such as birth, death and near-death experiences -- or perhaps during the awakening of our Kundalini in a moment of Enlightenment.

Synthesized DMT, or plants containing DMT are often used as recreational psychedelics, or in shamanic ceremonies, such as the Ayahuasca ceremony originating in South America. DMT and/or Ayahuasca users often report intensely entheogenic experiences of spiritual awakening, contact with entities of supernatural or spiritual origin, and the dilation or compression of time.



The Cult of the Mushroom:

The late Maya archaeologist Dr. Stephan F. de Borhegyi, was convinced that hallucinogenic mushroom rituals were a central aspect of Maya religion. He based this theory on his identification of a mushroom stone cult that came into existence in the Guatemala Highlands and Pacific coastal area around 1000 B.C. along with a trophy head cult associated with the Mesoamerican ballgame. In most cases the mushroom imagery was associated with ritual sacrifice in the Underworld, with jaguar transformation and calendar period endings, and with the decapitation and resurrection of the underworld Sun God by a pair of deities associated with the planet Venus. Mushrooms were also closely associated with Tlaloc and the ritual warfare carried out in his name that is known as Tlaloc warfare.

Link to Full Article:

This figure has a Flyagaric mushroom 'Hidden in plain sight'. It symbolises the transformation into the 'Jaguar God' following consumption of the hallucinogen. This image appears in Olmec art from as early as 1200 BC. (7)

Psychedelic mushrooms were called the 'Holy Children' by the Mazatec shamen.

(More about Prehistoric Guatemala)



Terrence Mckenna: The Evolution of Imagination

It is well known fact that psychotropic drugs induce altered states of consciousness. It was argued by Terrence McKenna that they were a leading stimulant in the evolution of the human brain, and the origin of language and religion. This theory did not originate with Mckenna. In 1986, shortly before his passing, Gordon Wasson put forth his own theory on the origin of religion from hallucinogenic mushrooms, specifically Amanita muscaria, with examples from several cultures that he had previously described, in details. In addition, Wasson also believed that Soma was responsible for:

"A prodigious expansion in Man's memory must have been the gift that differentiated mankind from his predecessors, and I surmise that this expansion in memory led to a simultaneous growth in the gift of language, these two powers generating in man that self-consciousness which is the third of the triune traits that alone make man unique. Those three gifts - memory, language and self-consciousness - so interlock that they seem inseparable, the aspects of a quality that permitted us to achieve all the wonders we now know." (2)

A modified version of this theory was later developed by McKenna, in the late 1980's. His theory differed from Wasson in that Mckenna believed that mushrooms containing the entheogen psilocybin, and he specifically says Stropharia cubensis, was responsible for the origin of religion and development of memory, language and self-consciousness. According to Mckenna, both events occurred in Africa, and began during the prehistoric, nomadic, hunting/gathering period of man's existence. The conclusion that Stropharia cubensis was "The Tree of Knowledge" was based on the elimination of plants containing entheogens that are available in Africa. Mckenna further restricted the plants considered to those having entheogens with indole compounds, which are characteristically strong visionary entheogens. With these prerequisites, the list of hallucinogenic plants was short:Tabernanthe iboga and Peganum harmala (Syrian Rue). Although both are known to be used by religious cults, these species were eliminated from consideration. The roots of Tabernanthe iboga contain the the alkaloid ibogaine, the entheogen, is required in far greater amounts than would normally be consumed in a meal by early man. In addition, its usage is only traced as far back as the 19th. While Peganum harmala may be found through the arid part of Mediterranean North Africa, there is no history of its usage here and it, again, must be too highly concentrated or must at least be combined with dimethyltryptamine (DMT) before it will produce an hallucinogenic effect. With the elimination of these two species, McKenna was left only with psilocybin mushrooms. These mushrooms could be found abundantly growing on the dung of the hooved animals that grazed in the grassland areas where they were being hunted. Stropharia cubensis was singled out because it was the only species thought to produce psilocybin in concentrated amounts and to be free of other compounds that may produce side-affects. It was the addition of the Stropharia to the diet of early man that led to better eyesight (an advantage for hunters), sex, language, and ritual activity (religion among them), when eaten. McKenna suggested that the mushroom augmented the above traits by changing the behaviour of individuals. These changes in behaviors favored increased usage of language, leading to an increase in vocabulary to communicate when hunting and gathering. Although evolution was occurring on the genetic level, due to increase in mutations from the change in diet that had occurred, according to McKenna, social evolution, due to the mushroom consumption was responsible for the above changes.

'At the same time that language was developing, religion also began. When taken at levels that cause intoxication, a feeling of ecstasy occurs, with hallucination and access to what the user would perceive as the realm of the supernatural. This led to the origin of the shaman whose duty is to communicate with the unseen mind of nature'.


Article: The Lycaeum. (1992)

The idea that the use of hallucinogens should be a source of inspiration for some forms of prehistoric rock art is not a new one. After a brief examination of instances of such art, this article intends to focus its attention on a group of rock paintings in the Sahara Desert, the works of pre-neolithic Early Gatherers, in which mushrooms effigies are represented repeatedly. The polychromic scenes of harvest, adoration and the offering of mushrooms, and large masked "gods" covered with mushrooms, not to mention other significant details, lead us to suppose we are dealing with an ancient hallucinogenic mushroom cult. What is remarkable about these ethnomycological works, produced 7,000 - 9,000 years ago, is that they could indeed reflect the most ancient human culture as yet documented in which the ritual use of hallucinogenic mushrooms is explicitly represented. As the Fathers of modern ethno-mycology (and in particular R. Gordon Wasson) imagined, this Saharian testimony shows that the use of hallucinogens goes back to the Paleolithic Period and that their use always takes place within contexts and rituals of a mysfico-religious nature.

(Click here for full article)



What were they smoking in Egypt ?

In a one-page article appearing in Naturwissenschaften, German scientist Svetla Balabanova (1992) and two of her colleagues reported findings of cocaine, hashish and nicotine in Egyptian mummies. The findings were immediately identified as improbable on the grounds that two of the substances were known to be derived only from American plants - cocaine from Erythroxylon coca, and nicotine from Nicotiana tabacum. The suggestion that such compounds could have found their way to Egypt before Columbus' discovery of America seemed patently impossible.

These 'images' on the temple walls of Dendera (left) and Abydoss (right), suggest an association between the the ceremonial nature of the temples and inhaling a 'burning substance'...

The study was done as part of an ongoing program of investigating the use of hallucinogenic substances in ancient societies. The authors themselves were quite surprised by the findings (Discovery, 1997) but stood y their results despite being the major focus of criticism in the following volume of aturwissenschaften. Of the nine mummies evaluated, all showed signs of cocaine and hashish Tetrahydrocannabinol), whereas all but one sampled positive for nicotine. It is interesting too that the concentrations of the compounds suggest uses other than that of abuse. (For example, modern drug addicts often have concentrations of cocaine and nicotine in their hair 75 and 20 times higher respectively than that found in the mummy hair samples.) It is even possible that the quantities found may be high due to concentration in body tissues through time.

Without question, the study has sparked an interest in various disciplines. As Balabanova et. al. predicted, "...the results open up an entirely new field of research which unravels aspects of past human life-style far beyond [sic] basic biological reconstruction."

Follow this link for a full and balanced review of the subject:



Ancient Greece: The Prophetic Oracles.

Both Minoan and Greek images attest to an association between the gods and poppies as seen below.

Left: Gold signet ring, Knossos. 1500 BC. Demeter, seated beneath the Double Axe and the World Tree, hands three poppy heads to Persephone. Right: Sacramental vase in the National Archeological Museum of Taranto. 450 BC, depicts Demeter's son, Dionysos, wearing a crown of opium poppies.

An association between poppies and the oracles can be seen in the exquisite example of Minoan art below. What has been termed the 'Sleeping Goddess' or the 'Poppy Goddess' is one of several figurines discovered inside a room without windows. Her posture is that of worship or prayer, as are the other figurines. The symbolism of the poppies is clear considering its reputation, and the cuts on the sides are additional indications that the poppies are functional (either medicinally or for inducing a trance-state). 

The prophetic abilities of the Delphic oracles were renowned for over a thousand years.

This Minoan figurine of the female in worship stance wearing a diadem of opium poppy heads, each painted with a slit for extraction of the sap.

(More about the Oracles)


Drugs and the Eleusian Mysteries.

'Some scholars believe that the power of the Eleusinian Mysteries came from the kykeon's functioning as a psychedelic agent. Barley may be parasitized by the fungus ergot, which contains the psychoactive alkaloids lysergic acid amide (LSA), a precursor to LSD and ergonovine. It is possible that a psychoactive potion was created using known methods of the day. The initiates, sensitized by their fast and prepared by preceding ceremonies, may have been propelled by the effects of a powerful psychoactive potion into revelatory mind states with profound spiritual and intellectual ramifications'.
'While modern scholars have presented evidence supporting their view that a potion was drunk as part of the ceremony, the exact composition of that agent remains controversial. Modern preparations of kykeon using ergot-parasitized barley have yielded inconclusive results, although Shulgin and Shulgin describe both ergonovine and LSA to be known to produce LSD-like effects. Terence McKenna argued that the mysteries were focused around a variety of Psilocybin mushrooms, and various other entheogenic plants, such as Amanita muscaria mushrooms, have also been suggested but at present no consensus has been reached. The size of the event may rule out Amanita or Psilocybe mushrooms as active ingredient, since it is unlikely that there would have been enough wild mushrooms for all participants. However a recent hypothesis suggests that Psilocybe cultivation technology was not unknown in ancient Egypt, from which it could easily have spread to Greece'.
'Another theory is that the kykeon was an Ayahuasca analog involving Syrian Rue (Peganum harmala), a shrub which grows throughout the Mediterranean and also functions as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor. The most likely candidate for the DMT containing plant, of which there are many in nature, would be a species of Acacia. Other scholars however, noting the lack of any solid evidence and stressing the collective rather than individual character of initiation into the Mysteries, regard entheogenic theories with pointed skepticism'.

More about the Eleusian Mysteries




Drugs in Prehistoric Asia:


Article: (Aug 15, 2012) News.Com.Au. 

'Ancient Siberian Princess Buried With Cannabis'.

'Tattoo's as complex and abstract as any modern design have been found on the body of Siberian princess buried in the permafrost for more than 2500 years. Two warriors recovered from the same burial site in the permafrost of the Ukok Plateau were similar fantastical creatures.   (Quick-link)

Buried with the 'princess' were six saddled-and-bridled horses, bronze and gold ornaments - and a small canister of cannabis'.

(More about Tattoo's in Prehistory)


Article (2008) Discovery.Com:

'Prehistoric Cultivated Marijuana Stash Found in China'

According to a recent report, researchers have discovered almost two pounds of marijuana "cultivated for psychoactive purposes" in the Gobi Desert, an area located in southern Mongolia and the northern Inner Mongolia region of China. According to the researchers, the marijuana stash is about 2,700 years old. The following is an excerpt from the news report

Nearly two pounds of still-green plant material was found in the grave of a 2,700-year-old  light-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian man in the Gobi Desert, and has been identified as the world's oldest marijuana stash, according to a paper in the latest issue of the Journal of Experimental Botany.

A barrage of tests proves the marijuana possessed potent psychoactive properties and casts doubt on the theory that the ancients only grew the plant for hemp in order to make clothing, rope and other objects. It is possible that the man was a shaman but it is unknown whether the marijuana was grown for spiritual or medical purposes.
The substance has also been found in two of the 500 Gushi tombs excavated so far in northwestern China.   (Quick-link)

(More about the 'Cherchen' Mummies)


At Merv oasis, a little west of Urumchi (China), there is a religious complex that dates back to the second Millenium BC. In its most important room, the 'White room', are storage vessels which contain traces of Poppy and Ephedra. Apparently, the poppy derivatives provide such stunning highs that the ephedra had to be used to prevent the shaman from losing consciousness. (9)


The Pazyryk barrows, (5th-3rd centuries B.C.) Russia: The Pazyryk tombs discovered by Rudenko were in an almost perfect state of preservation. Unique artefacts found during excavation of the burial mounds (kurgans) of Pazyryk in the Eastern part of the High Altai, at a height of 1,600 metres above sea level include skeletons and intact bodies of horses and embalmed humans, together with a wealth of artefacts including saddles, riding gear, a chariot, rugs, clothing, jewelry, musical instruments, amulets, tools, and, interestingly, an "apparatus for inhaling hemp smoke". Also found in the tombs were fabrics from Persia and China, which the Pazyryks must have obtained on journeys covering thousands of miles. (8)



Drug-use in the Pre-Columbian Americas.

  Article: Bulletin on Narcotics. Issue 1, 1971; 3-14. By Albert Hofmann.

'The country of origin of the majority and most important of the so-called magic, i.e. hallucinogenic drugs, is Central America. Magic drugs were already of great importance in the old Indian cultures of Mexico. The Spanish chroniclers and naturalists who came to the country soon after the conquest of Mexico by Cortez mentioned in their writings a great number of plants with intoxicating, stimulating, or narcotic effects; these plants were unknown in the Old World and were used by the Indians both in their medical practices and in their religious ceremonies. The cultic use and divine worship given to many of these drugs met with the disapproval of the Christian missionaries, who attempted by any means possible to liberate the Indians from this devilry. They were, however, only partially successful in this respect. The native population secretly continued using the drugs considered by them as holy even after having been converted to Christianity.

Three magic drugs were used mainly by the Aztecs and neighbouring tribes in their religious ceremonies and medical practices, which were strongly influenced by magical concepts; these drugs are still used today for the same purpose by the witch doctors in remote districts of Mexico. They are: 1. peyotl, a cactus species; 2. teonan�catl, certain foliate mushrooms; 3. ololiuqui, the seeds of bindweeds.

The first of these magic drugs to be analyzed was peyotl, the cactus Anhalonium Lewinii, this being done at the turn of the century. The alkaloid mescaline was found to be the psychoactive principle of peyotl. These investigations are to be considered as the first scientific studies in the field of psychotomimetics, and the two pioneer researchers who carried them out, Louis Lewin and Arthur Heffter, deserve a place of honour in the history of psychotomimetic research'.

(Link to Full Article)


 Samples from the cache of ten mushroom figurines discovered in Guatemala city and dated at around 100 - 300 BC.

(More about Guatemala)

Highly decorated snuffing tablets and tubes are often found as grave goods during the periods 3,4,5,6,7,8. Until now the type of drugs consumed in this paraphernalia has been unclear. From the modern city of Arica, naturally mummified human bodies with abundant hair provided a unique opportunity to test for hallucinogenic plants consumed in Andean prehistory. Analysis by gas chromatography and mass spectrometry demonstrated the presence of harmine. The Banisteriopsis vine, commonly called Ayahuasca, was the probable source. This is the first confirmed evidence of psychoactive plant consumption in pre-Hispanic Andean populations along the Atacama coastal region. Of the 32 mummy hair samples analyzed 3 males tested positive for harmine. This alkaloid aids in the catalysis and synergic effects of powerful hallucinogenic drugs. The consumption of harmine was likely related to medicinal practices and not exclusively ingested by shamans. Another important aspect of this evidence is that Banisteriopsis is an Amazon plant. It does not grow in the Atacama coastal region. Thus, our findings reveal extensive plant trade networks in antiquity between the coast, desert, highlands, and Amazon basin.


'Examinations of hair samples exhibit remnants of psychoactive substances in many mummies found in Tiwanaku culture mummies from Northern Chile, even those of babies as young as 1 year of age, demonstrating the importance of these substances to the Tiwanaku'. (10).

(More about Tiahuanaco)

(More about about Pre-Columbian America)



   Hallucinogens and the Neolithic Megaliths:


Gavr'inis, France - Thursday, January 27, 2005 - Bangor Daily News.

 'Neolithic pottery artefacts found in the chamber contain traces of cannabis'. (3)


Balfarg, Scotland: The Balfarg henge is a part of a larger prehistoric ceremonial complex in Fife, Scotland.  grooved-ware pottery found at the site dates to around 2900 BC. Some of the vessels may have been used to hold black Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) which is a poison but also a powerful hallucinogen. This discovery is briefly explored in the journal Antiquity in the article ' The use of henbane as a hallucinogen at Neolithic ritual sites: a re-evaluation' (1)


Carrowmore, Ireland. (Site 4) - Dated about 4,600 BC, contains the remains of a passage-tomb which may be the earliest in the country. Such an early date, however, is controversial. This tomb is one of the smallest complete sites in the cemetery and produced the remains of over 65 fragments of antler pins, including seven pieces with mushroom-shaped heads, as well as over 30 kilos of cremated human bone.


Skara Brae, Orkneys: Hallucinogenic Alcohol: 5,000 year old traces of cereal-based fermented alcohol - laced with hemlock and henbanewere discovered near Skara Brae in the Neolithic metropolis of Orkney. (Gourlay, 2001) 

However important, alcohol is nowhere near the full story of induced Neolithic consciousness change.   In many cultures, psychoactive drugs and their effects are viewed as vehicles for making contact with other worlds, in particular those of the ancestors in the context of temple-centred ceremony.  Rudgley (1999, p.137-141) has proposed cannabis and/or opium as likely candidates in the early western Neolithic and a growing body of opinion points in the same direction. (Devereux, 1997: Sherratt, 1997; Thomas, J., 1998)  The Orkney brew described above, it will be remembered, was blended with henbane and hemlock.  Henbane, bearer of the trance-inducing, hallucinatory (and extremely toxic) drug Hyoscyamine, is one of what Sherratt (1996) terms �the Saturnine herbs�.  Sherratt recounts how during the 1980�s henbane was recovered from carbonised Neolithic porridge, eaten from Grooved Ware pottery in the context of a mortuary structure, Balfarg/Balbirnie in Fife, Scotland.  Discovery in the 1920's of three burial chambers at the Jersey La Houghe Bie site adds weight to Sherratt's thesis.  David Keys reports that the chambers "...contained 21 pottery vessels marked with a burnt, resin-like material.  Archaeologists believed that this was from drugs, possibly opium or hashish."  (6) 




(Eleusian Mysteries)





1). Burl. A. A guide to the Stone Circles of Great Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale, 1995.
2). R. Gordon Wasson. Persephone's Quest: Entheogens and the Origins of Religion. Yale University Press, New Haven MA.
4). Gourlay, K., 2001.  �5,000-year-old pub found on Orkney served real dung ale�, Independent on Sunday, 2 Sept. 2001. 
5). Sherratt, A., 1996. �Flying up with the souls of the dead�, British Archaeology, No.15, June 1996. 
6). Keys, D., 1992.  "Stone Age temple discovery offers scientific first", The Independent, 27 July 1992.
9). C. knight, R. Lomas. Uriel's Machine. 2000. Arrow Books.


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