back to article Cocaine, psychedelics, DMT? They sure knew how to party 1,000 years ago: Archaeologists make startling discovery

Humans have been tripping off hallucinogens for at least a millennium, according to a crew of archaeologists who discovered a 1,000-year-old pouch of mind-bending drugs in a Bolivian cave. The team discovered a strange leather sack buried in a rock shelter in southwestern Bolivia and took a peek inside. They found a pouch and …

  1. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Seems like everything found of the Old Ones is of "religious significance". Maybe this time it was just someone who decided to hide their stash while they wandered looking for a nosh?

    Footnote: I don't remember the title or the author of science fiction story about a group of archaeologists in 'future earth' finding a structure (house) buried by time. Everything including the toilet, kitchen stove, etc. all had "religious significance". A great read and hilarious but at this point in time... I'm beginning to think the author was a prophet.

    1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
      Thumb Up


      I don't know if it's exactly what you're thinking of, but "Body Ritual Among the Nacerima" and "The Mysterious Fall of the Nacerima" are classics of this type:

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      "religious purposes" is the archaeologists equivalent of "take 2 aspirin and call me if it doesn't go away in a few hours". Or I suppose for this publication "have you rebooted it?"

      Although in this case there might be a bit more to it, as we know that these drugs have been used in shamanic rituals for centuries at least. Hallucinagens have also been quite common in "rites of passage" type ceremonies as well.

      Not that the vicar can't also get drunk on the communion wine...

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        "religious purposes"

        Most of the ones I know were very firmly conditioned to say "ritual purposes" instead..

    3. Mike 16 Silver badge

      Religious artifacts

      See also Frederik Pohl's "Heechee" stories with "prayer fans" classified as religious artifacts (and tourist items). I suppose one _could_ make a claim for that being a bit true, if one wants to stretch things a bit., but that would be a spoiler.

    4. elgarak1

      OTOH, the European religious texts make a lot more sense if you assume that the originators did consume.

      1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

        Do any religious texts not benefit from something waccy (generic)?

      2. Muscleguy Silver badge


        The Book of Revelations in particular. The properties of ergot, the fungus which infests even slightly damp stored grains can have psychedelic properties as well. Think magic mushrooms or stilton rind.

        1. Swarthy Silver badge

          Re: Indeed

          Ergot would be more closely linked to LSD(lysergic acid diethylamide), as ergoline has a lysergic acid base.

          1. Muscleguy Silver badge

            Re: Indeed

            All the fungal psychedelics are the products of some creative chemical evolution. I was highlighting that fungi are the source of a number of psychedelics rather than trying to draw a chemical similarity linkage. You wouldn't expect one as none of them are related.

            A lot of the psychoactive substances in nature are in effect natural pesticides. If the creature chomping on you or sucking your sap gets too buzzed to continue you win. Think nicotine, caffeine, opiods, the base of ayahuasca, nutmeg and lots of others. That they have effects in both humans and insects shows neural systems evolved long before the split in our lineages.

          2. kain preacher Silver badge

            Re: Indeed

            Ergot is what lead to LSD lysergic acid is precursor to LSD.

    5. Havoc

      Could it be you're thinking of "Motel of the Mysteries" by David Macaulay? Where a future Carson excavates a 20-th century Motel thinking it a sacred necropolis.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Heh. I read an excerpt from Motel decades ago, and I still remember the "artist's rendition" of a woman wearing a toilet seat as a collar, with the "Sanitized for your protection" band as a headband. While I suspect I have a higher opinion of archaeological anthropologists in general than some here, I won't deny that the field has produced its share of suspect claims.

        That said, as a very broad generalization, cultures that don't have mass economic systems and strong division of labor often invest nearly all activities with some degree of ritual significance, so such claims are usually pretty safe. I imagine ritual makes mundane activities more interesting and helps organize them and pass along knowledge of practices which have survival value.

        And it's not like modern industrialized cultures aren't full of ritual too.

  2. cdrcat

    Item second from left at top

    would make an awesome phone case.

    I wonder when the (missing) credit cards expiry date would become valid again (Dec. 21, 2012, on the Mayan calendar marks the end of the 13th b'ak'tun of the Mayan Long Count Calendar).

  3. Dr Scrum Master


    Humans have been tripping off hallucinogens for at least a millennia

    Is that El Reg's excuse for mixing singular and plural?

    1. Dr Dan Holdsworth Silver badge

      Re: Number?

      It would appear that our El Reg correspondent has been partaking of these substances himself, since instead of being Stitched together, the pouch was instead Snitched together...

    2. Vector

      Re: Number?

      Humans have been tripping off hallucinogens for at least a millennia

      Since when is 1000 years ancient? Does that make William the Conqueror an ancient Monarch?

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Number?

        "Since when is 1000 years ancient? Does that make William the Conqueror an ancient Monarch?"

        It's before the time when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, therefore it's prehistoric by definition.

        1. Spherical Cow Bronze badge

          Re: Number?

          Not prehistoric because they had their own writing system 1000 years ago, and some of their writing has survived to the present day.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Number?


            Have you seen what's covered in the US school system history syllabus? Not to mention what actually sticks in the memory of those who've left school. That's why I used the joke icon.

      2. Muscleguy Silver badge

        Re: Number?

        Millennia is plural. That was the problem. If it was one millennium it would be wrong by more grammatically correct.

        Much better would have been 'for several millennia'. Bonobos and Chimps use lots of plants for medicinal reasons but some may also have psychoactive properties. In experiments chimps will prefer water laced with psychoactives. But then so will rats and mice.

        Humans seem to have found pretty much every last psychoactive natural substance (nutmeg!). Mongolians bereft of fermentable grains fermented milk instead so ingrained is the human desire to get buzzed. There is some evidence that the drive to domesticate grains was at least initially driven by the desire to make a sour mash beer for celebrations/rites rather than feeding the multitudes.

        The English have long looked down on us Scots for eating oats, but that is because we use the barley for making whisky and beer. Demand for high protein barley to ferment is so high in Scotland that in recent years English farmers have been growing the right barley varieties to sell here, under urging by the Scotch Whisky Industry.

        Gin production (all those botanicals!) has transformed the economics of starting a whisky distillery. No longer do you have to wait three years for your spirit to be deemed to be whisky before you can cash in. Now you can make the whisky, put in casks to mature, then make some gin full of local botanicals (they must be local) and sell that while you wait. Even the gin is usually made from unpeated malted barley.

        Oats are still a wonder food though. I partake regularly and ate nothing else until dinner time yesterday. Oats rule.

  4. Spherical Cow Bronze badge

    Only users lose drugs.

  5. Blockchain commentard Silver badge

    It only seemed like a millennia ago when I dropped my bag because this is all one big trip - isn't it? Now, whose got the munchies?

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      When's the archaeological evidence for the first pizza? And how long did primitive man have to wait until he could order it for delivery?

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Depends - as tomatoes didn't reach Europe before the discovery of Americas by Europeans - and even then for a while they were thought to be toxic. So actual "pizza" is quite recent.

        But thin round baked bread is quite ancient - and it was often used to hold food instead of ceramic dishes. There's a reference in Virgil's Aeneid, for example.

        Being Deliveroo workers slaves quite ancient too, I think they were already used to order one for delivery - probably as soon as both bread and stone axes were invented. Losing the job could have been quite painful, though.

        1. mevets


          is in the americas.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not really sure why this surprised anyone ?

    when you consider that one of the oldest cultivated crops (8,000 years ago) is cannabis. And yes - we do know they were getting high as well as using the fibers, seeds and oil.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not really sure why this surprised anyone ?

      >when you consider that one of the oldest cultivated crops (8,000 years ago)

      And we've been getting pissed for about the same amount of time, don't forget folks alcohol is a drug that acts upon GABA receptors.

      1. Someone Else Silver badge

        Re: Not really sure why this surprised anyone ?

        And we've been getting pissed for about the same amount of time, [...]

        I'm sorry you're should maybe chill out. mean that kind of pissed....Never mind....

      2. Geoffrey W Silver badge

        Re: Not really sure why this surprised anyone ?

        GABA GABA HEY! We acshept you...youre my besht bud...hic!

    2. ColonelClaw

      Re: Not really sure why this surprised anyone ?

      And also coming in cultivated around the 8000 years ago mark is the humble grape. Could have been for eating them raw? Or perhaps producing some lovely raisins?

      Nah, it was for getting hammered.

    3. LDS Silver badge

      "one of the oldest cultivated crops (8,000 years ago) is cannabis"


      1. sed gawk Bronze badge

        Re: "one of the oldest cultivated crops (8,000 years ago) is cannabis"

        Seems to suggest quite a long history, I'm not how much of that is ingestion rather than for rope, or other uses.

  7. thexfile

    Humans getting high.. It's a family tradition.

  8. TeeCee Gold badge

    A pouch made of fox's noses? I guess that coming over all eco animal hugger after a good belt of psychotropics must be purely a modern thing then.

    Maybe our ancestors understood that hallucinogens don't actually connect you with anything, they just bring out your inner wanker.

    1. Duffy Moon

      "Maybe our ancestors understood that hallucinogens don't actually connect you with anything, they just bring out your inner wanker."

      Hallucinogens don't do that, but cocaine certainly will.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A pouch made of fox's noses? I guess that coming over all eco animal hugger after a good belt of psychotropics must be purely a modern thing then.

      Maybe our ancestors understood that alchohol don't actually connect you with anything, they just bring out your inner wanker.

      ftfy ;o) now where's that packet of king size raws?

  9. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

    Cocaine, psychedelics, and DMT?

    Sounds like a weekend in Vegas!

  10. Alistair Silver badge

    Alternate interpretation

    "She believes that whoever owned the drug sack must have been very experienced and knowledgeable in how to prepare and find the ingredients for ayahuasca."

    Perhaps whomever left it there was rather *inexperienced* in the matters at hand, and they should be examining the cave for the skeleton of the shaman's little brother?

  11. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge


    IIRC, DMT isn't active orally, so you have to mix it with a monoamine-oxidase inhibitor (MAOI), hence the Harmine.

    The article says that the mix of the two is evidence of prolonging the high, but it could also be that they didn't smoke/vaporise(*) DMT at all (no pipe included in the kit, but I suppose you can inhale smoke without one), but rather hit on the right combination to make the DMT work with the method(s) of ingestion available to them. So less "searching for a bigger high" than "figuring out how to make the thing work in the first place", I think. Either way, For Great Science!

    I guess that the bufotenins (5-MeO-DMT, not mentioned in the article, but I did read about it elsewhere) that you get from toads are probably mixed with MAOI-like substances in the toad's skin. Otherwise it wouldn't be much of a deterrent against being eaten...

    (*I'm not sure if DMT is active when snorted without a MAOI, either)

    (that's weird---how can my huge copy of TIHKAL fit into that tiny pocket? --->)

  12. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

    "and that ayahuasca use may have roots in antiquity"

    Reminds me of Terrence McKenna's Food of The Gods. A cracking read, even if it's not actually true/provable.

  13. steelpillow Silver badge

    OMG - not

    Scandinavian use of mind-altering drugs goes back at least four times as far, when some cool teenager spat a used wad of birch sap onto the floor of their hut. Back in South America, ceremonial vases do actually support a religious theme by depicting the psychedelic poop being discharged down long tubes and into special collecting urns on the floor, reasons unknown. Cannabis has certainly been farmed from ancient times, but whether for the tips or the strong hempen rope fibre is less clear. Even monkeys have been seen scoffing certain rotting fruit and then staggering off in a less than orderly manner. All in all, the idea of making a fuss about psychedelics seems to be a very recent invention.

    Still, the triple-nose pouch sounds cool. Cue:

    "I say, I say, I say, my fox has got no nose."

    "Then how does it smell?"


    A joke like that is enough to make you reach for the nose pouch....

  14. John 104


    "Our findings support the idea"

    This, folks, is how science is supposed to work. Notice that she didn't say, "Our findings prove the idea," as some in today's media would hysterically declare...

    1. rskurat

      Re: Science?

      right - science journalism is an oxymoron

  15. choleric


    I think that's a mild term for anyone who comes up with idea of dual coaxial network terminators for a Palm Pilot (second from left on the top row). The things only had a primitive network stack two decades ago, can you imagine what type of deranged nutter you'd have to be to try to install and bring up two interfaces on a Palm Pilot from a millennium ago? It would be enough to drive me to the strong stuff, I'm sure.

    Mind you, it brings a new understanding to the term "token ring".

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'Illicit substances'?

    Did they have a law against it 1000 years ago? Did they have laws at all?

    Very bigoted views from the author.

  17. AVee

    Party like it's 999!

    Nuff said...

  18. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    Bolivian Marching Powder

    Very apt that this was discovered in Bolivia.

    Elementary, my dear Watson. Make mine a seven percent solution

  19. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Artifacts look interesting

    But I don't regard 1000 years as ancient - 10,000 would be more like it. Even then, I would think folks were familiar with the effects of fermenting fruit and certain mushrooms much further back in time.

  20. Claverhouse Silver badge

    American District Attorneys in conjunction with the ATF are investigating and confidently expect to make a number of arrests.

  21. Kev99

    Hey, like wild, man. Haight Asbury in the mountains. Way cool, man.

  22. GrapeBunch Silver badge

    Dr. Gábor Maté suggests that ayahuasca may be good for more than the article prints on the packet, for example, to treat addiction:

    That would make it at once a drug, and an anti-drug.

  23. Andromeda451


    Illicit substances? 10 centuries ago I submit we didn't have elite governing bodies claiming that coke was illicit. Cocaine was only made illegal in the USA in 1914 so that is what we call a journo miss.

  24. JCitizen

    NO! NO! NOoo!! You've got it all wrong..l

    The small tube was for blowing darts infused with drugs into the arms, and the long cloth for restricting the blood flow to the arm, like addicts today perform. HA!

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