Researchers have discovered evidence of cocaine and hallucinogenic compounds in a leather bag believed to have belonged to shamans at an ancient burial site in Bolivia, according to Science magazine.
An analysis of the findings beneath ancient llama dung revealed evidence of “multiple psychoactive plants,” including key compounds (harmine and dimethyltryptamine) of the hallucinogenic plant ayahuasca (which is still used today).
It’s considered the richest find to date of ancient mind-altering drugs in South America.
The drugs were discovered inside the leather bag in a 1,000-year-old smaller pouch made of fox snouts in a rock shelter in the Andes highlands in southwestern Boliva. The find was detailed in a study by researchers from universities in California, Pennsylvania, Bolivia and New Zealand, and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The drugs weren’t for recreational use, according to the scientists, but were likely used by shamans to induce “nonordinary states of consciousness” as part of funeral rituals. Or they may have been used for medicinal purposes.
The fact that the materials came from diverse areas “suggests that hallucinogenic plants moved across significant distances and that an intricate botanical knowledge was intrinsic to pre-Columbian ritual practices,” the study states.
“Whoever had this bag of amazing goodies … would have had to travel great distances to acquire those plants,” said Melanie Miller, lead study author and a bio-archaeologist at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. “Or they had really extensive exchange networks,” she told Science magazine.
The pouch also held various “drug paraphernalia,” including a wooden “snuffing tube” and bone spatula seed crushers.