Worth Repeating: Cannabis Found In Ancient Shaman’s Tomb


The Chinese shaman tomb and its contents from 2,800 years ago. Almost 800 grams of cannabis was found inside the tomb.

Welcome to Room 420, where your instructor is Mr. Ron Marczyk and your subjects are wellness, disease prevention, self actualization, and chillin’.

Worth Repeating
By Ron Marczyk, R.N.

Health Education Teacher (Retired)

To begin, please watch the following to understand the significance of this cannabis discovery.
China’s Secret Mummies: National Geographic Explorer, December 2007

This National Geographic special provides major archeological evidence of religious cannabis use 2,800 years ago (at minute 38:00 of the video).

Upon your death, what personal items would you want placed next to your corpse in your tomb?

What very special items define you and what your life stood for, in the very short period of time you were alive? 

In other words, what is most sacred to you?

To the holy men in this story, cannabis represented the sacred.

I believe that humans have a natural right to use cannabis as part of their private spiritual/religious practice. We all walk our own spiritual path.

Remember, you experience the divine in your head, not in a temple or church.

Meet the “Yanghai shaman,” who will be your guide.

Lab work to identify 2,800-year-old mummy of shaman: scientists
From The People’s Daily, December 23, 2006

Chinese scientists are conducting laboratory work hoping to identify a 2,800-year-old mummy, presumably of a shaman, in the northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The grave site was part of the pre-Silk Road network of trade routes in northwest China. Xinjiang was a crossroads town where people from all over came, traded, and mixed with each other 2,800 years ago.

This leather basket was placed at the right side of the shaman’s head, and contained 789 grams of finely ground cannabis powder.

​The well-preserved mummy of a seemingly Caucasian man with a Roman nose and deep-set eyes was unearthed from a cluster of ancient tombs in 2003 and research work has been going on ever since.

Archeologists found the mummy most intriguing because a sack of marijuana was found buried alongside the corpse.

The mummy remains intact in its original outfit despite the passage of time: leather hat, heavy coat and boots, huge earrings of copper and gold, a turquoise necklace, a copper laced stick in the right hand and a bronze ax in the left, according to Li Xiao, head of the heritage bureau in Turpan.

Inside the leather coat, the man was wearing a dainty brown and red mantle, and his hands were crossed in front of his chest, said Li.

“From his outfit and the marijuana leaves, which have been confirmed by international specialists to be ingredients for narcotic, we assume the man had been a shaman and had been between 40 and 50 years old when he died,” said LI, a noted historian in Xinjiang.

He said the corpse is about 1.2 meters long and its legs are at least 80 centimeters.

Mortar and pestle placed near the shaman’s feet, also on the right. The mortar and pestle were used to grind the cannabis into a powder which may have been thrown onto very hot rocks to create smoke, to be inhaled. Due to its apparently prolonged use as a pestle, the inner surface of the wooden bowl containing cannabis had become smooth, and one side became perforated. The cannabis was presumably pulverized with a mortar before being consumed for psychoactive purposes. Thus, we assume that the deceased was more concerned with the intoxicant and/or medicinal value of the cannabis remains.

​Li and his colleagues are taking fabrics from the mummy’s clothes for laboratory work, hoping to identify the mummy and unravel more mysteries of shaman clothing, culture and religion.

The mummy was the best preserved one among some 600 excavated in 2003 from a cluster of 2,000 tombs in Turpan. Archeologists assume the tombs, which dated from the Bronze Age to the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907), belonged to several big clans.

Little is known about the ancient magic-religious and medicinal use of cannabis in the region of Xinjiang, northwest China. The shamanistic practices of Central Asia were not shared by a majority of people or openly mentioned in the ancient tests that refer to this region. Ritual use of cannabis by nomadic tribes in Central Asia has been well described but there is little archeological evidence of such use from northwest China.

“The cannabis was presumably (cultivated and) employed by this culture as a medicinal or psychoactive agent, or an aid to divination. To our knowledge, these investigations provide the oldest documentation of cannabis as a pharmacologically active agent, and contribute to the medical and archeological record of this pre-Silk Road culture.”

In other words, shamans were using cannabis as a spiritual medicine and as an aid in religious/mystical transcendence 2,800 years ago. Before written language, divine cannabis knowledge was being passed down from generation to generation. Cannabis in all likelihood has had its roots deep in our human history for thousands of years.

Cannabis may have been humans’ earliest medicine, and the oldest religious sacrament!

The Shaman Skull

Shaman #1: Tomb and its contents

The shaman’s tomb, as excavated in situ in 2003. At top, a shelf is observed. This was covered with 10 cm diameter tree branches and grass with Gobi gravel deposited on top. Below, an air space was present down to the full 210 cm depth. The tomb length was 220 cm, and width 175 cm.

Diagram of the tomb and its contents. The shaman was found as a disarticulated skeleton, with evidence of an apparent leg wound. The skull and bones at his feet were felt to be those of a female sibling. The tomb contents included: 1) earthenware pot, 2) leather basket containing cannabis, 3) earthenware pot, 4) wood bar implements, 5) horse lash, 6) bridle or halter, 7) leather medicine bag, 8) bows and arrows, 9) wooden implement, 10) wooden bowl containing cannabis, 11) arrows, 12) kongou harp, 13) wooden wimble tool to untie knots, 14) leather make-up bag, 15) woolen fabric, 16) leather ring hand protector for bowstring. NOTE: Two items connected to cannabis are found, one for its preparation (his grinder), and the finished product, ready to be used.

Yangshao culture (circa 4800 BCE) amphora with hemp cord design

Historical Background

The earliest record of man’s use of cannabis comes from the island of Taiwan located off the coast of mainland China. In this densely populated part of the world, archeologists have unearthed an ancient village site dating back more than 10,000 years to the Stone Age.

Scattered among the trash and debris from this prehistoric community were some broken pieces of pottery, the sides of which had been decorated by pressing strips of hemp cord into the wet clay before it hardened.

Also dispersed among the pottery fragments were some elongated rod-shaped tools, very similar in appearance to those later used to loosen cannabis fibers from their stems.

These simple pots, with their patterns of twisted fiber embedded in their sides, suggest that men have been using the cannabis plant in some manner since the dawn of history.

Cannabis has been cultivated in China since Neolithic time. For instance, hemp cords were used to create the characteristic line designs on Yangshao culture pottery.

Early Chinese classics have many references to using the plant for clothing, fiber, and food, but none to its psychotropic properties. Some researchers think Chinese associations of cannabis with “indigenous central Asian shamanistic practices” can explain this “peculiar silence.”

The botanist Li Hui-Lin noted linguistic evidence that the “stupefying effect of the hemp plant was commonly known from extremely early times“; the word ma “cannabis; hemp” has connotations of “numbed; tingling; senseless” (e.g., mamu “numb” and mazui “anesthetic; narcotic”) which “apparently derived from the properties of the fruits and leaves, which were used as infusions for medicinal purposes.”

Li suggested shamans in northeast Asia transmitted the medical and spiritual uses of cannabis to the ancient Chinese wu (“shaman; spirit medium; doctor.”) This was widespread and a part of the culture.

“The use of cannabis as an hallucinogenic drug by necromancers or magicians is especially notable. It should be pointed out that in ancient China, as in most early cultures, medicine has its origin in magic. Medicine men were practicing magicians. In northeastern Asia, shamanism was widespread from the Neolithic down to recent times. In ancient China shamans were known as wu. This vocation was very common down to the Han dynasty. After tha
t it gradually diminished in importance, but the practice persisted in scattered localities and among certain peoples. In the far north, among the nomadic tribes of Mongolia and Siberia, shamanism was widespread and common until rather recent times.”

“The hallucinogenic properties of hemp were common knowledge in Chinese medical and Taoist circles for two millennia ormore, and other scholars associated Chinese wu (“shamans”) with the entheogenic use of cannabis in Central Asian shamanism.” (Source)

The Cannabis Stash

Photomicrograph of ancient cannabis: 2,800 years old and still green and red! They tried, but couldn’t get the seeds to sprout.

“This plant material is therefore conclusively cannabis derived from a population of plants within which THC was the dominant cannabinoid. By contrast, a sample taken from a mix of wild-type cannabis sativa would customarily harbor a more equal mixture of THC and CBD. It would appear, therefore, that humans selected the material from plants on the basis of their higher than average THC content.”

“The results presented collectively point to the most probable conclusion which is that the Gūshī culture cultivated cannabis for pharmaceutical, psychoactive or divinatory purposes. In examining the botanical evidence from this ‘old and cold’ site with its unique degree of preservation, the cannabis consisted of a processed (pounded) sample whose seed size, color, and morphology suggest that it was cultivated rather than merely gathered from wild plants.”

(A) Photo of the whole cannabis sample being transferred in laminar flow hood. (B) Photomicrograph of leaf fragment at low power displaying non-glandular and amber sessile glandular trichomes. Note retention of chlorophyll and green color. Scale bar = 100 μm. (C) Higher power photomicrograph of a single sessile glandular trichome. At least four of its eight secretory cells are clearly visible on the right, and the scar of attachment to the stype cells in the center. Scale bar = 25 μm. (D) Low power photomicrograph of a cannabis achene (seed) including the base with a non-concave scar of attachment visible. Scale bar = 1 mm.

“The considerable amount of cannabis present (789 grams) without any large stalks or branches would logically imply a pooled collection rather than one from a single plant. Importantly, no obvious male cannabis plant parts (e.g., staminate flowers) were evident, implying their exclusion or possible removal by human intervention, as these are pharmacologically less psychoactive.”

“Testing… indicates that the original plants contained delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as the major phytocannabinoid constituent.”

“All of these observations are consistent with strains of cannabis with a high THC content and in an alternative taxonomy suggests it should be assigned to cannabis indica.”

“The unique cannabinoids discovered in this ancient sample may yet be of critical importance in tracing the phylogeny and geographic spread of cannabis and the humans who used it.”

Cannabis ceremonies likely took place in small shaman huts like this one, a Russian postcard based on a photo taken in 1908 by S.I. Borisov, showing a female shaman.

Numerous Questions Remain

No smoking pipes were found in the tomb.

Current data do not permit it to be ascertained how the cannabis from the tomb was administered. If used orally, perhaps it was combined in some fashion with Capparis spinosa L., as these plants were found together in a nearby but later tomb at Yanghai.

If this cannabis were smoked or inhaled, no mechanism for doing so has been excavated in the area.

The Gūshī could have sifted the cannabis through fabric after pounding, then fumigated it, which has been described, as administered medicinally as the “hand of the ghost.”

The finely ground cannabis was thrown onto extremely hot rocks,
where it would vaporize immediately, perhaps burned as incense and its smoke inhaled during chanting prayer rituals.

The ceremony would take place in a small shaman hut (see photo at right). (Source)


A new insight into Cannabis sativa utilization from 2500-year-old Yanghai Tombs, Xinjiang, China.
Ethnopharmacol. 2006 Dec 6/ Epub 2006 June – Laboratory of Systematic and Evolutionary Botany, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing.

Phytochemical and genetic analyses of ancient cannabis from Central Asia.

J Exp Bot. 2008;59(15):4171-82.      Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences. [email protected]


Photo: Ron Marczyk
Mr. Worth Repeating: former NYPD cop, former high school health teacher, the unstoppable Ron Marczyk, R.N., Toke of the Town columnist

​Editor’s note: Ron Marczyk is a retired high school health education teacher who taught Wellness and Disease Prevention, Drug and Sex Ed, and AIDS education to teens aged 13-17. He also taught a high school International Baccalaureate psychology course. He taught in a New York City public school as a Drug Prevention Specialist. He is a Registered Nurse with six years of ER/Critical Care experience in NYC hospitals, earned an M.S. in cardiac rehabilitation and exercise physiology, and worked as a New York City police officer for two years. Currently he is focused on how evolutionary psychology explains human behavior.