Traces of the ancient presence of cannabis and incense have been found in an analysis of the material on two Iron Age altars discovered at the entrance to the ‘holy sanctorum’ of a shrine at Tel Arad in the Beer-sheba valley, Israel.
These unique findings shed new light on worship practices in Biblical Judah, suggesting that cannabis was used here as a deliberate psychoactive, to stimulate ecstasy as part of worship ceremonies.
The "fortress mound" of Tel Arad in the Beer-sheba valley in southern Israel was excavated more than 50 years ago. A well preserved sanctuary dating from 750-715 BC.
Two limestone altars were found (the smallest altar is 40 cm high and about 20 by 20 cm at the top; the largest is about 50 cm high and 30 by 30 cm at the top) at the entrance of the ‘sancta santorum’ of the sanctuary. Unidentified black solidified organic material was preserved on the surfaces of the altars .
The study reveals that in the smaller altar, cannabis had been mixed with animal manure to facilitate heating, while the larger altar contained traces of incense that was mixed with animal fat to promote evaporation .
The study has been published in the Tel Aviv Journal of the Institute of Archeology of Tel Aviv University . According to lead author Eran Arie of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, he commented:
This is the first time that cannabis has been identified in the ancient Near East; its use in the sanctuary must have played a central role in the rituals of worship performed there.