Discovery of a thousand year old bag filled with psychotropic drug traces

Psychoactive components discovered in a leather bag made from three fox muzzles in Bolivia. Credits: Jose Capriles, Penn State University

An ancient thousand year old bag has been discovered filled with psychotropic drug traces in Bolivia.  This discovery confirms that ancient societies consumed hallucinogenic drugs during their rituals. 

A team of anthropologists recently announced the discovery of the leather bag hidden in a rocky shelter in the South-West of Bolivia, in the region of Sud-Lípez.  Dried plant stalks were found inside the bag as well as instruments used to inhale psychoactive drugs.  Researchers suggest that the bag and it’s possessions probably belonged to a shaman.  The details of the study were published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Science in the United States of America (PNAS). 

Taken during rituals

Anthropologists were particularly interested by the discovery of hallucinogenic components.  Inside the leather bag was a pouch (sewn with three fox snouts) containing traces of at least five psychotropic compounds. This included cocaine, benzoylecgonine (the main metabolite of cocaine), as well as harmine, bufotenine, dimethyltryptamine, and traces of psilocin. All these compounds came from at least three species of plants. Erythroxylum, Anadenanthera, and ayahuasca are known for their psychoactive properties.

Indigenous species of plants with psychedelic properties have been used in South American communities for thousands of years,” explains José Capriles from Pennsylvania State University (USA).  “These types of medication help users to establish links with their ancestors as well as super natural forces often incarnated during rituals as animals like foxes, jaguars, birds of prey or other types of predators.”

Researchers discovered a thousand year old bag containing hallucinogenic substances in a rocky shelter in South West Bolivia. Credits : Jose Capriles, Penn State University

Researchers believe that the shaman who owned this bag of hallucinogenics probably had a vast knowledge of botanical plants.  It appears that he was also quite familiar with the use of psychoactive compounds “to induce extraordinary states of consciousness,” states the study. “All these plants grow in the tropical lowlands east of the Andes, hundreds of miles from where the bag was found. It is thought that those who performed these rituals traveled great distances to collect the ingredients they needed. “


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