Because cannabis plants are so widespread now, there’s been considerable scientific debate about where it originated, and suggestions have included West Asia, Central Asia and northern China, Fumagalli said.
Originally published on Live Science.
Most biologists now think two different species of cannabis — Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis — are subspecies of the single species within the genus, Cannabis sativa, that was domesticated earlier than about 12,000 years ago.
The tomb lies in northwest China’s Turpan Basin, which was “an important stop on the Silk Road,” according to the magazine.
It was found among 240 other tombs in the cemetery believed to belong to the Subeixi culture. As the study describes, the Subeixi people “led a pastoral life with only a small amount of cereal cultivation, but eventually developed a more balanced semi-pastoral and semi-agricultural society.”
“This is the first time ever that archaeologists have recovered complete cannabis plants, as well as the first incidence of their use as a ‘shroud’ or covering in a human burial,” National Geographic quotes the study’s lead author, Hongen Jiang, as saying.
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Cannabis seeds were also recently discovered in a Siberian tomb of a woman who likely died of breast cancer and may have used cannabis to “cope with the symptoms of her illnesses,” the researchers say.
And the researchers say there’s growing evidence that the Subeixi, along with other groups living in the area, used cannabis for ritualistic or medicinal purposes. Ten years ago, for example, scientists discovered “a large supply of processed female Cannabis flowers” in a nearby Yanghai cemetery. The plants were likely selected because of their “psychoactivity, possibly to facilitate communication between the human and spirit worlds and/or for its medicinal value.” They say it could have also been placed “as an appetite stimulant.”
The tomb where scientists found the cannabis plants. The first layer is shown in (a). (b) shows a close-up view of the shroud. (c) is a line drawing of the contents, and (d) shows the bottom layer. Courtesy of Economic Botany hide caption
In the tomb, the body was placed on a wooden bed with a “pillow made of common reeds,” surrounded by earthenware pots. The plants measured between 19 and 35 inches, and carbon dating indicated that the cemetery is 2,800 to 2,400 years old.