A healer with a hallucinogenic mixture during a traditional ceremony in Colombia

A traditional healer in Colombia prepares a ritual brew of plants. A kit for making a similar mixture was found in Bolivia and dates to roughly one thousand years ago. Credit: Eitan Abramovich/AFP/Getty

Archaeology

Kit for consuming hallucinogenic plants found in ancient tomb

Bag containing traces of coca leaves and other mind-bending plants was buried with a South American shaman.

Sometime between ad 905 and ad 1170, an indigenous shaman was buried in a rock shelter in the southwest desert of present-day Bolivia, and with him or her, a large leather bag holding ritual paraphernalia. Roughly one thousand years later, archaeologists have found evidence suggesting that the bag’s contents were used to consume mind-altering substances.

Melanie Miller at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, José Capriles at the Pennsylvania State University in University Park and their colleagues unearthed and analysed the items in the bag. The objects included wooden tablets used to pulverize plants into snuff. Among the most unusual finds was a pouch made of the snouts of three Andean foxes (Lycalopex culpaeus) tightly stitched together.

Artefacts found in a 1,000-year-old ritual bundle - a pouch made of fox snouts and a textile headband

A prehistoric pouch made of three fox snouts once held plants that have psychotropic effects.Credit: Juan V. Albarracin-Jordan and José M. Capriles

The team gently scraped the pouch’s interior and performed chemical analysis on the resulting sample. The researchers discovered that the pouch once likely carried leaves and psychoactive seeds of the coca plant (Erythroxylum coca). The pouch also held plants commonly used today to make ‘ayahuasca’, a hallucinogenic concoction.