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8 November 2016
Ancient cannabis 'burial shroud' in chinese oasis

Archaeologists say cannabis found in an ancient burial in northwest China adds considerably to our understanding of how ancient Eurasian cultures used the plant.
     Thirteen female cannabis plants almost three feet long were placed diagonally across the chest of an approximately 35-year-old adult man with Caucasian features, laid out on a wooden bed with a reed pillow beneath his head. Nearly all of the flowering heads had been cut off. The few that remained were nearly ripe, and covered with the tiny plant 'hair' which contains the highest concentrations of psychoactive compounds. This suggests the plants were grown and harvested for their resin, and that the burial occurred in late summer.
     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 burial is one of 240 graves excavated at the Jiayi cemetery in Turpan, and is associated with the Subeixi or 'Gushi Kingdom' culture that occupied the area between roughly 3,000 to 2,000 years ago. At the time, Turpan's desert oasis was an important stop on the Silk Road. Radiocarbon dating of the tomb's contents indicates that the burial occurred approximately 2,400 to 2,800 years ago.
     A growing collection of archaeological evidence shows that cannabis consumption was 'very popular' across the Eurasian steppe thousands of years ago. Cannabis plant parts have been found in a few other Turpan burials, most notably a nearby contemporaneous burial in Yanghai cemetery containing close to one kilo of cannabis seeds and powdered leaves.
     Cannabis seeds have also been found in first millennium BCE Scythian burials in southern Siberia, including one of a woman who possibly died of breast cancer. Archaeologists suspect she may have been using cannabis in part to ease her symptoms. No hemp textiles have been found in Turpan burials, and the seeds of the plants in the Jiayi burial are too small to serve as a practical food source.

Edited from National Geographic (4 October 2016)

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