By Jack Arnhold, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Archaeologists have discovered an astonishing stash of powerful drugs in a 1,000-year-old leather pouch buried in a cave deep in the Bolivian Andes. The pouch, made from three foxes’ snouts stitched together, has shown traces of a number of plant-based psychoactive substances, including the earliest known evidence of an ayahuasca ceremony.
The University of Berkeley led the expedition and analysis, with head archaeologist Melanie Miller announcing: “This is the first evidence of ancient South Americans potentially combining different medicinal plants to produce a powerful substance like ayahuasca.”
The number of different substances discovered in the same pouch has led scientists to believe that the person who buried the pouch may have been part of a huge trans-continental trading route of medicinal plants and substances.
Several of the chemical traces are from plants that grow throughout South America, but not in the isolated region of the Andes where the stash was found. While the chemical harmine, a common ingredient for ayahuasca, is a plant that only grows in the lowlands of the Amazon.
“Whoever had this bag of amazing goodies … would have had to travel great distances to acquire those plants,” comments Miller to Science Mag. “[Either that], or they had really extensive exchange networks.”
For many years, scientists have been fairly certain that many ancient cultures have used psychedelic substances for mind-altering effects throughout history and this discovery is almost unique in its incredibly well-preserved state. The drug traces and their containers have been almost perfectly maintained in the dry air of the cave’s 4,000-meter altitude.
While ayahuasca is a loose term to describe varying concoctions of shamanic drugs, harmine and dimethyltryptamine are often thought of as its main components. And though shamanic cultures have always said that ayahuasca has been used for millennia, this exciting find shows actual evidence of the reportedly long-standing use.