Ancient Cannabis Found in Gobi Desert Grave

We first reported on the discovery of ancient cannabis in our recent blog post, 18 Fun Facts About Cannabis. In that post, the 16th fun fact read, “789 grams of 2,700-year-old cannabis were found in a Chinese tomb in 2008. Big party in the afterlife?”  789 grams? That’s nearly two pounds! We were intrigued and wanted to learn more.
Here’s what we found out.

In the 1980s, farmers in the Gobi Desert uncovered what would turn out to be a huge ancient burial site at the base of the Fire or Flaming Mountains in the Xinjiang province. The cemetery, which is 2600 – 3000 years old, measures approximately 600,000 square feet and was divided into three sections for excavation purposes. Because of the location’s extremely dry climate, alkaline soil conditions and the deepness of the graves, human remains as well as plant matter and artifacts have been remarkably well preserved. So remarkable, in fact, that when the archeologists uncovered “Room 90 of Group 1,” they found the preserved remains of a Caucasian male approximately 40 years old, several artifacts relating to horsemanship, music, weaponry, and here’s the crazy part – a bowl that contained nearly two pounds of an herb that was still green! Originally the plant matter was thought to be coriander, but botanical analysis and genetic testing showed it to be cultivated cannabis.

NBC News reported that Dr. Ethan Russo, visiting professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Botany and his team determined the cannabis was grown and consumed for its psychoactive, and perhaps spiritual, qualities. The article states, “The size of seeds mixed in with the leaves, along with their color and other characteristics, indicate the marijuana came from a cultivated strain. Before the burial, someone had carefully picked out all of the male plant parts, which are less psychoactive, so Russo and his team believe there is little doubt as to why the cannabis was grown.”


Interestingly, smoking implements were not buried with the cannabis so the question remains: How was the cannabis used? Russo speculated that it may have been ingested or the vapor inhaled after being thrown upon hot stones in an enclosed lean-to.

So, the cannabis was still green, but was THC still active? Apparently not. Rather than containing active THC, the plant matter contained the oxidative byproduct of THC. Although modern day users would not feel the effects of THC if they smoked this ancient stash, way back when, the shaman and his friends surely would have.

Intrigued about the ancient cannabis and want to see it for yourself? Take a trip to Xinjiang, China; the cannabis found in the shaman’s grave is safely stored at the Turpan Museum.





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