Researchers studying an ancient tomb in China have found direct evidence that cannabis was a staple food crop in the Tang dynasty over 1,000 years ago.
Previous research into the civilizations of ancient China has shown that cannabis was an important crop for thousands of years, with historical texts showing that the seeds of the plant were a staple food eaten in a type of porridge. And now, archaeological evidence from central China confirms the importance of cannabis during the Tang Dynasty, which ruled the country from AD 618 to 907.
Cannabis found in ancient tomb
In 2019, workers at a construction site for a playground at a primary school in Taiyuan, Shanxi province discovered an ancient tomb buried underground. Escaped from discovery for more than 1,320 years, the remarkably dry environment of the tomb had preserved the wall paintings and artifacts found within.
Researchers have determined the find to be the tomb of Guo Xing, a cavalry officer who fought with Emperor Tang Li Shimin, or Taixzong, in a series of fierce battles on the Korean Peninsula. Among the artifacts discovered in the grave was a jar containing staple foods, including cannabis seeds and the remains of their husks, according to a report speak South China Morning Post.
“The cannabis was stored in a jar on the coffin bed amidst other staple grains like millet. Obviously, Guo Xing’s descendants buried cannabis as an important food crop,” said Jin Guiyun, a professor at Shandong University’s School of History and Culture and co-author of the study published last month by the peer-reviewed journal. Agricultural archeology.
The cannabis seeds were significantly larger than those of current varieties, suggesting that a cannabis cultivar had been bred specifically for the grain. They were so well preserved that some still showed their original color. The researchers noted that the seeds still had their husk, which may contain the psychoactive cannabinoid THC. According to Compendium of Materia Medica, a book written by herbalist Li Shizhen about 500 years ago, eating too many cannabis seeds that still had their husks could “make a person run like crazy.”
“Cannabis seeds with husk are not only related to the high lignin content of the husk and its hard texture, which can reduce the risk of mold and prolong storage time, it can also stimulate the nerves and cause hallucinations due to consumption of husk for religious and medical purposes,” researchers from the Taiyuan Municipal Institute of Archeology wrote in a report on the study.
Study Reveals Use of Cannabis as Food, Fiber and Medicine
Cannabis was an important crop in the Tang Dynasty, providing food, fiber, and medicine to the ancient civilization. But the Taiyuan region was wetter and warmer at that time, making rice the most common grain in the region.
However, the artifacts placed in the tomb by Guo Xing’s family did not include rice as expected. Instead, the researchers found cannabis seeds, possibly reflecting the personal food preferences of the ancient warrior, who lived to be 90 years old.
In ancient Chinese texts, cannabis was known as one of the five basic food crops known as wu-gu. Archaeologists have discovered cannabis in graves found across the country, some dating back 6,600 years. Previously, researchers have speculated that the presence of cannabis in graves indicated the use of the plant for spiritual and funerary purposes. But evidence discovered in Guo Xing’s tomb also illustrates the importance of cannabis as a staple food crop.
“Cannabis was buried as food for the tomb owner’s feast and for health in the afterlife,” the researchers wrote.
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