The Earliest Evidence of the Use of Opium, Discovered in a Canaanite Tomb

September 22, 2022 | Amanda Borschel-Dan
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At an archaeological site near the Israeli town of Yehud, researchers found residue of opium in jugs from the 14th-century BCE. They conjecture that the opium itself came from poppies grown in what is now Turkey, while the practice of using opium was introduced to the Canaanites by the Egyptians. Amanda Borschel-Dan writes:

Over the past decade of research surrounding the chronology of the dispersion of opium, archaeobotanical studies have identified poppy—the plant from which opium is harvested—at archaeological sites dating to the Neolithic period. Additionally, there are ancient texts talking about opium use as well as ample religious iconography. But until now archaeologists hadn’t found the physical evidence to back it up.

The opium residue was found in high-quality ceramic base-ring juglets that were imported from Cyprus and others used in a burial assemblage discovered at Tel Yehud, in a salvage excavation conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority dig director Eriola Jakoel from 2012 to 2017.

The residue detected by the California-native Vanessa Linares records is, to date, the oldest proof of psychoactive drug use in the archaeological record, predating the much-publicized Tel Arad cannabis find by about 600 years.

Perhaps, Linares said, the buried individual would need the opium to endure his transition to the afterlife, or maybe it was used for ritualistic purposes by the priests themselves. Or it could have been used by the mourners to ease their emotional pain over the loss of the deceased.

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