The top of an altar from an ancient religious shrine discovered in southern Israel, on which Israeli researchers say residues of cannabis and animal dung have been found, is seen on display at Israel Museum in Jerusalem, in this undated handout photograph received by Reuters on June 1, 2020. Laura Lachman/Israel Antiquities Authority collection, photo © Israel Museum, Jerusalem/Handout via REUTERS
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The ancient Israelites may have used cannabis to get high as part of their religious ritual, according to Israeli researchers who found residue of the drug at a nearly 3,000-year-old shrine.
The traces were found on an altar at the Tel Arad temple, in the Negev Desert about 10 km (six miles) from the southern Israeli town of Arad.
The site was discovered more than 50 years ago but new analysis of unidentified organic material on the limestone altar yielded the surprising result.
Archaeologist Eran Arie, who led the research project on behalf of the Israel Museum and Israel’s Volcani Institute, said the material contained traces of cannabis and animal dung, likely used to help the plant burn.
Arie said there has been no evidence of cannabis having been cultivated locally during the 8th century BC, suggesting someone had gone to the trouble of importing it “for its psychoactive effect”.
Frankincense traces were found on a second altar at the shrine, he said.
Reporting by Rinat Harash and Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Angus MacSwan