Archaeological Discoveries Show that Vikings, Germanic Pagans, & Many Other Europeans Used Cannabis

According to historians, the Viking Age started in 790 A.D. and continued up until 1066 A.D., when the Normans finally conquered England. Warriors, explorers and traders, these fearless women and men originated in Scandinavia and eventually spread throughout Europe, venturing as far as China, the Middle East, Russia and even America. They had their own distinct religion, culture and art, and when they weren’t raiding monasteries and villages along the European coastline for loot and slaves, they were setting up colonies in places like Greenland and venturing as far as China.

The Oseburg burial mound was excavated by an archaeologist from Norway named Haakon Shetelig and Swedish archaeologist named Gabriel Gustafson in 1904 A.D. After a farmer near Tønsberg in Vestfold, Norway discovered evidence of a large gravesite and contacted local authorities, workers dug up the graves of several women, dozens of horses and animals, several sleighs, a chariot and a large Viking ship, probably buried around the year 834 A.D.

Amongst the everyday items and artifacts could be found bed posts, wooden chests, figurines, tools, woolen garments, silk, tapestries and leather pouches containing cannabis. The site was well preserved, mostly because of the large mass of clay surrounding the objects. Baskets of fruit and even bread dough were discovered. Historians have determined that the women were probably rulers, since normal individuals would not have been buried with so much treasure.

The cannabis in question was probably given to the older women to treat cancer, since DNA evidence shows that she probably died from the disease. The Vikings were very proficient in herbalism, and knew that various plants could cure illnesses, treat pain and induce psychoactive effects. This isn’t the first time Vikings have been found growing cannabis. Another find, the Sosteli farmsted, was dug up in the south side of Norway in Vest-Adger County back in 2012 A.D. Archaeologists also found evidence of cannabis amongst the remains.

Regardless of whether it was for religious purposes or recreation, did Vikings use cannabis for its psychoactive properties? Although science isn’t certain, according to historians on the subject Vikings would often eat hallucinogenic Amanita Muscaria mushrooms washed down with healthy amounts of reindeer urine to get themselves high before battle so that they would be numb to fear and pain. If they were willing to do all that for a buzz, smoking cannabis to wind down must have certainly been an option, and it would have been a lot easier than hanging out with pissing reindeer.

Vikings were not the only people who used cannabis in ancient Europe. Other people grew the plant and used it for textiles and religious purposes. German pagans used cannabis in connection with the worship of the Norse goddess of love, Freya. They even smoked cannabis during fertility rituals. The Celtic people also made use of cannabis, since evidence of the plant have been found throughout Ireland and Scotland. Scientists also know the Sythians, a warlike, red-haired race that also ended up exploring regions as far as China, used cannabis in shamanist rituals or for the purposes of engineering textiles.

Although scientists haven’t found solid evidence to indicate that Vikings grew cannabis specifically for the purposes of mental intoxication (it is widely believed they just grew hemp for textile purposes), it wouldn’t be a stretch if they did since we know for certain that the tribes in Germany that worshiped the same gods as Vikings used cannabis for their religious ceremonies. Many other cultures at the time did the same thing, and the seafaring raiders film and television has made so famous came into contact with all of them. For example, Sikh warriors in the Middle East who used cannabis to deal with wounds they got from fighting. The Chinese used cannabis for medicinal properties, too. The Vikings met all of these people, so it would not be impossible to believe they learned about the power of the plant from the cultures they fought and traded with.

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Cannabis discovered in Viking grave

One of the women on the Oseberg ship was found with a small leather sack full of cannabis. Scientists wonder how she used the plant.

The Oseberg mound dates back to 834 AD, and is the richest Viking burial ground that has ever been discovered. It was dug up in the year of 1904, and consisted of a Viking ship with two women in it, a young person around 50 years old, and an elderly person between the ages of 70 and 80. They brought with them seven beds, several woven tapestries, a richly decorated chariot, and four horse sleighs. There were also animal bones discovered from 14 or 15 horses, four dogs, a cow, a bull, a red-breasted merganser, and a Eurasian woodcock. The objects were very well preserved bearing in mind how long they had been buried.

 

The Oseberg ship  Photo Credit:

It was so well preserved because of the dense clay and peat that it was buried in. During the excavations, archaeologists discovered a bucket of apples which were still red, as well as cress and blueberries. Additionally, they discovered a lump of raised bread dough that could have intended as a funerary gift; something for the women to cook immediately after they reached the afterlife.

The most interesting puzzle is the two female skeletons. Who were these ladies?

They must have been quite influential within their community to be given such a burial. Average people were not buried in ships or with so many valuable objects. So these women might have been religious and political leaders. It is unclear which of the two women held the most power.

It appears that one woman was bigger than the other. The older woman definitely was eating very well, she was close to 80 years old, which was very old for a Viking woman. The younger one was 50 years old.

Their skeletons showed that they lived for a while, and the oldest had different health issues; it was most likely cancer that was the root of her death.

Cannabis in a Leather Pouch

The older woman was holding a leather sack that has received a lot of attention because of its contents. She would have suffered from a lot of pain because of her illness, and it is speculated that the cannabis that was discovered in her sack was used as a painkiller. Given her possible status as a religious leader, it may have had spiritual connotations and been used in rituals.

The Vikings had an outstanding knowledge of which plants could be utilized for what, some could be used to cure diseases and alleviate pain, whilst others were intoxicants, like cannabis.

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Marijuana's History: How One Plant Spread Through the World

From the sites where prehistoric hunters and gatherers lived, to ancient China and Viking ships, cannabis has been used across the world for ages, and a new report presents the drug's colorful history.

In the report, author Barney Warf describes how cannabis use originated thousands of years ago in Asia, and has since found its way to many regions of the world, eventually spreading to the Americas and the United States.

"For the most part, it was widely used for medicine and spiritual purposes," during pre-modern times, said Warf, a professor of geography at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. For example, the Vikings and medieval Germans used cannabis for relieving pain during childbirth and for toothaches, he said.

"The idea that this is an evil drug is a very recent construction," and the fact that it is illegal is a "historical anomaly," Warf said. Marijuana has been legal in many regions of the world for most of its history.

Where did pot come from?

It is important to distinguish between the two familiar subspecies of the cannabis plant, Warf said. Cannabis sativa, known as marijuana, has psychoactive properties. The other plant is Cannabis sativa L. (The L was included in the name in honor of the botanist Carl Linnaeus.) This subspecies is known as hemp; it is a nonpsychoactive form of cannabis, and is used in manufacturing products such as oil, cloth and fuel. [11 Odd Facts About Marijuana]

A second psychoactive species of the plant, Cannabis indica, was identified by the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, and a third, uncommon one, Cannabis ruderalis, was named in 1924 by Russian botanist D.E. Janischevisky.

Cannabis plants are believed to have evolved on the steppes of Central Asia, specifically in the regions that are now Mongolia and southern Siberia, according to Warf. The history of cannabis use goes back as far as 12,000 years, which places the plant among humanity's oldest cultivated crops, according to information in the book "Marihuana: The First Twelve Thousand Years" (Springer, 1980).

"It likely flourished in the nutrient-rich dump sites of prehistoric hunters and gatherers," Warf wrote in his study.

Burned cannabis seeds have also been found in kurgan burial mounds in Siberia dating back to 3,000 B.C., and some of the tombs of noble people buried in Xinjiang region of China and Siberia around 2500 B.C. have included large quantities of mummified psychoactive marijuana.

Both hemp and psychoactive marijuana were used widely in ancient China, Warf wrote. The first record of the drug's medicinal use dates to 4000 B.C. The herb was used, for instance, as an anesthetic during surgery, and stories say it was even used by the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung in 2737 B.C. (However, whether Shen Nung was a real or a mythical figure has been debated, as the first emperor of a unified China was born much later than the supposed Shen Nung.)

From China, coastal farmers brought pot to Korea about 2000 B.C. or earlier, according to the book "The Archeology of Korea" (Cambridge University Press, 1993). Cannabis came to the South Asian subcontinent between 2000 B.C. and 1000 B.C., when the region was invaded by the Aryans — a group that spoke an archaic Indo-European language. The drug became widely used in India, where it was celebrated as one of "five kingdoms of herbs ... which release us from anxiety" in one of the ancient Sanskrit Vedic poems whose name translate into "Science of Charms."

From Asia to Europe

Cannabis came to the Middle East between 2000 B.C. and 1400 B.C., and it was probably used there by the Scythians, a nomadic Indo-European group. The Scythians also likely carried the drug into southeast Russia and Ukraine, as they occupied both territories for years, according to Warf's report. Germanic tribes brought the drug into Germany, and marijuana went from there to Britain during the 5th century with the Anglo-Saxon invasions. [See map of marijuana's spread throughout the world.]

This map shows how marijuana spread throughout the world, from its origins on the steppes of Central Asia.

"Cannabis seeds have also been found in the remains of Viking ships dating to the mid-ninth century," Warf wrote in the study.

Over the next centuries, cannabis migrated to various regions of the world, traveling through Africa, reaching South America in the 19th century and being carried north afterwards, eventually reaching North America.

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