Unlike modern people, prehistoric Europeans didn’t use hallucinogens just for recreation. Alcohol and drug use (opium poppy and hallucinogenic mushrooms) was strictly regulated and administered in burial rituals.
Elisa Guerra-Doce from the University of Valladolid (Spain) states that ancient people used hallucinogens, because they thought it would help them connect to the spirit world. Usage of psychoactive plants had started long before the establishment of human society, but just now scientists are starting to realize the historic role hallucinogens played in Ancient Europe.
Apart from historic texts, Guerra-Doce studied extensively the cultural importance of opiates in prehistoric European societies. She examined remains of fermented beverages, alkaloids, and fossils of psychoactive fruits, leaves, and seeds found in archaeological artifacts and human remains.
Among the body of evidence, there were poppy seeds between the teeth of an old man from Spain, charred hemp seeds found in Romania, traces of barley beer in pottery found in Iberia, and abstract images from the Italian Alps, which display ritual usage of hallucinogenic mushrooms.
The Spanish scientist found traces of psychoactive substances mainly in burial tombs and that’s why she thinks drug use was mostly ritualistic. Hallucinogens helped ancient priests enter a state of trance, in which they could communicate with the spirit world.
The right to use those drugs was strictly regulated because they played a very important social and spiritual role in Ancient Europe.
Medicinal plants and fermented beverages were key components in prehistoric societies, said Guerra-Doce. Most of the evidence for their usage was found in aristocrats’ tombs and places where ritual ceremonies were held.
The results from Guerra-Doce’s research were published in Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory.