Study: Prehistoric Pot Smugglers Gave Us The Wheel

New archeological evidence suggests that one of the three ancient tribes of people that settled Europe in the Bronze Age spread cannabis all across Asia.  These stoned age travelers influenced European languages and may have even invented the wheel.

Tengwen Long and Pavel Tarasov from the Free University of Berlin compiled evidence of ancient cannabis use from archeological digs into a database in the hopes of observing any trends. Earlier evidence has suggested that cultures in Western Europe and Japan started using cannabis at the same time almost 10,000 years ago, but their new findings tell a different story.

“Early records of its use in East Asia are fairly scattered,” says Long. However, things start to change around 5,000 years ago in the Early Bronze Age. Cannabis usage for everything from textiles, to rope and even something to smoke intensified at the same time that nomadic pastoralists of the Eurasian Steppe had mastered horse riding.

They don’t think this is any coincidence; the Yamnaya people started the early trade routes between East and West that would eventually become the Silk Road. Nicknamed the “Bronze Road,” this trade rout helped spread many different commodities, including cannabis. The spread of wheat is also linked to these trade routes. First cultivated 10,000 years ago in the Middle East, wheat didn’t spread to China until the appearance of the trade routes around 5,000 years ago.

The Yamnaya culture had a major impact on Eastern Europe as it settled more than 5,000 years ago. Whether it was by force or immigration, they completely replaced existing cultures in what is now Germany. Most Europeans have some Yamnaya in their genes, particularly those from Northern regions like Scotland, Norway or Lithuania.

Some theories suggest the Yamnaya spoke Proto-Indo-European, the ancestor of all European languages. Not only did they spread their language and culture, they may have shared their knowledge of one of the most decisive inventions in history: the wheel.

Evidence of burnt cannabis seeds suggests the Yamnaya people cultivated certain cannabis varieties for its psychoactive properties and smoked it. When they weren’t forging trade routes or inventing the wheel, the Yamnaya found time to get high during rituals and feasts.

The earliest written account of anyone smoking cannabis comes from the Greek historian Herodotus, who reportedly smoked cannabis on the Crimean Peninsula with the Scythians. In Herodotus’ own words:

“The Scythians put the Seeds of this ‘hemp’ under the bags, upon the burning stones; and immediately a more agreeable vapor is emitted than from the incense burnt in Greece. The Company extremely transported with the scent, howl aloud.”

Coincidentally, the Scythians lived in the same regions as the Yamnaya people directly after them, perhaps they picked up the habit from the Stoned Age descendants.

  1. This is really great stuff: thanks for the summary of the study. This fits well with a lot of the work done by cannabis historian Chris Bennett.

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