Did Neolithic Europeans Use Drugs?    

Charred seed of black henbane found at Ilindentsi, Bulgaria


 

Every year the archaeological excavations at the Neolithic settlement Ilindentsi, Bulgaria provide us with new insights in the life, habits, and rituals of the local Neolithic dwellers (around 5800/5700 BC). During the past seasons (2004-2009 and 2011-2014) archaeologists unearthed remains of Early and Middle Neolithic settlement structures and features. Among them are several dwellings. One with stone foundations, another with elaborate floor construction and under-floor drainage systems. A third structure is completely burnt with well preserved in situ "kitchen-space" including an oven, grain-store and a grave pits with a skeleton of a new-born baby.

The dig director Dr. Małgorzata Grębska-Kulova, Blagoevgrad Regional Museum of History, Bulgaria still wonders about the way prehistoric people managed to produce perfectly shaped miniature beads (all of them found in the dwellings’ interior), pierced through the middle and never exceeding the size of 3 mm. However, another surprise from the last year is related to a more controversial practice or habit of Neolithic people in Ilindentsi. Dr. Elena Marinova-Wolff, botanist at the Catholic University Leuven, Belgium reported about a charred seed of black henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) found in the soil samples from one of the dwelling contexts. This plant has a strong psychotropic effect and causes hallucinations - it is known to have been used for the preparation of the decoction used by the famous Oracle of Delphi, Greece in Antiquity. It has been used in traditional medicine as well. Its presence at the Neolithic settlement in Ilindentsi could be accidental but considering the later use of Black henbane as a drug in other parts of Neolithic Europe raises the question: did the prehistoric residents of Europe take drugs as early as the Balkan Neolithic (5900 BC) or they used it as a medicine at that time.

More about the Role of Drugs in Prehistory.