Jul 17, 2019 | Updated: 08:19 AM EDT

Ancient Shamanic Pouch is Found with Traces of Cocaine and Psychedelics

May 08, 2019 08:38 AM EDT


Archaeologists have found evidence of powerful psychotropic drugs inside of a 1,000-year-old leather pouch discovered in the Bolivian Andes. The pouch is believed to have belonged to an indigenous shaman and contained traces of plant-based psychoactive substances, ranging from cocaine to the ingredients used to brew ayahuasca, along with paraphernalia used to prepare and consume it. The pouch-which is comprised of three fox snouts stitched together-contained two wooden tablets for grinding the plants into snuff, a woven headband, and a pipe-like tube with two human hair braids affixed to it that was used to smoke the psychotropic plants.

An analysis of the pouch revealed traces of cocaine, harmine, benzoylecgonine, dimethyltryptamine, bufotenine and possibly psilocin, a chemical component of psychedelic mushrooms. The find constitutes the earliest evidence of the ceremonial use of ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic brew associated with the Amazon jungle.

Ayahuasca is a fairly loose term that describes a range of shamanic creations, with the main components typically being harmine and dimethyltryptamine. There has long been a consensus in the scientific community that psychedelic substances were commonly used by ancient cultures for their hallucinogenic effects, but the current find provides proof of their use for millennia.

The expedition and analysis were led by a team from the University of California, Berkeley, who made the find along the now-dry Sora River valley in the southwest of Bolivia back in 2010. There is evidence that humans have inhabited the region at least as far back as 4,000 years.

According to a press release from the university, the "remarkably well-preserved ritual bundle was found by archaeologists at 13,000-foot elevations in the Lipez Altiplano region of southwestern Bolivia, where llamas and alpacas roam. The leather kit dates back to the pre-Inca Tiwanaku civilization, which dominated the southern Andean highlands from about 550 to 950 AD"

The find shows that human society was capable of not only using single plants to embark on psychedelic journeys and hallucinations but were also skilled at combining plant ingredients to create powerful combinations that intensified and extended their trips.

Head archaeologist Melanie Miller of the UC Berkeley Archaeological Research Facility said, "This is the first evidence of ancient South Americans potentially combining different medicinal plants to produce a powerful substance like Ayahuasca."

However, while some of the chemical traces were derived from plants grown throughout South America, they are not known to have grown in the Andean region where the pouch was found. Likewise, the chemical harmine-a common ingredient in Ayahuasca-is known to only grows in the Amazonian lowlands. The range of different substances has led researchers to believe that the pouch is evidence of a major transcontinental trading zone capable of bringing medicinal plants and substances across great distances.

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