What shamans smoked 1,000 years ago to interact with spirits and see the future

People from time immemorial have used various psychedelic substances. Today, Mesoamerican cultures used special mushrooms and different types of cactus and cannabis in a very long history worldwide.

But it would be naive to believe that in ancient times psychotropic substances were only eaten or smoked. The Bolivian discovery demonstrates that humans were sniffing strange mixtures of powdered substances at least 1,000 years ago.

Researchers find the ancient burial site of Cueva del Chileno in 2008, high in the Andes Mountains in Bolivia. Next to the mound, they found a small leather bag with an unusual set for “those who wish to communicate with spirits”: bone spatulas for grinding seeds, wooden tablets inlaid with precious stones for crushing grains and grinding plants, a wooden pipe with carved figures for inhalation, crushed seeds, and a small pouch of three fox muzzles stitched together.

Radiocarbon dating established the age of the findings to be 905 – 1170. But just this year, scientists examined the contents of the fox pouch. It would seem that you can explore there because, over the centuries, everything has disintegrated into dust. But the researchers were able to scrape the powder from the inside of the bag and analyze it. It turned out to be the most various mixture of psychotropic substances ever found in South America.

At least five different substances have been identified: cocaine, benzoylecgonine, bufotenine, harmine and dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and possibly psilocin (a compound found in some mushrooms).

Local ritualists probably used the pouch – shamans who acted as intermediaries between the human world and the supernatural. They entered a state of altered consciousness to communicate with deities and ancestors. Shamans had an excellent knowledge of plants and how to use them as “mechanisms for interacting with supernatural beings”.

Interestingly, some of the chemicals found in the bag are not found in the region where the find was made. Therefore, whoever was a fan of “communicating with spirits” had to travel long distances, or at that time, the trade was well established.

It is also intriguing that harmine and DMT are the two main ingredients in ayahuasca, a psychedelic “magic potion” known among the South American rainforest Indians. The finding of these two ingredients in powder form suggests that humans may have been grinding and inhaling these two chemicals before they even started making ayahuasca with them.

Researchers have suggested that this particular blend may have been unique to this region and perhaps even this specific shaman.

After all, it may be that the shaman specially selected plants not only because of their effects but also because of how they interact with each other. This discovery confirms that people in the past had a vast knowledge of plants and their potential uses and looked for various combinations to obtain medicinal and psychoactive properties.

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