Earliest Evidence Of Ayahuasca Use Discovered In Ancient Shamanic Pouch In Bolivia
Published in May 2019 / Updated in Aug 2021
Indigenous people of South America have been practicing Ayahuasca rituals for over 1,000 years, recent discoveries in Bolivia reveal.
The remains of a 1,000-year-old pouch considered to belong to a South American Shaman has been discovered in Bolivia. The bag, made from 3 fox snouts sewn together, contains traces of hallucinogen drugs.
According to the National Geographic report, the pouch contains evidence of ayahuasca along with other mind-altering substances.
This discovery proves that indigenous Shamans were not only using one plant variety in producing ayahuasca. They were blending various plants to create a potent compound. The mixture’s end product was beneficial to the people in this community in terms of spiritual and physical pursuits.
One of the plants used in this ritual is an enzyme inhibitor, and it stimulates the production of psychoactive effects in the liver.
These discoveries were found by a team of Anthropologists in Sora River valley, Southwestern Bolivia, in 2010. This region contains evidence of ancient human habitation for over 4,000 years.
Indigenous people of South America have been performing ayahuasca practices for ages.
The ancient pouch was found by Jose Capriles, an anthropologist at Penn State University, in 2010. But the report of this finding was published this week in the PNAS journal. Capriles found the pouch during Cueva del Chileno archaeological digging. This shelter is believed to be an ancient tomb, but the bodies’ remains had been moved.
The people who removed the bodies didn’t recognize the plethora of goods, leaving them behind. They saw them as trash.
Some of the items Capriles and his team found in this cave includes beads, human hair braids, a headband, a carved tube, small spatulas that were made from llama bones, and wooden platforms used for inhaling substances.
Radiocarbon dating reports show that the leather bag was used between 900 and 1170 AD. Capriles’ team used a tiny scraping from the inside of the pouch and examined the material.
But the team is yet to determine what the dried plants found in the bag are.
When they tested the inside of the bag against various plant materials, they discovered that the pouch once contained bufotenine, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), harmine, benzoylecgonine (BZE), and psilocin, which is a component in magic mushrooms.
Traces of cocaine from cocoa, commonly chewed in the region to date, were also found.
As one of the ancient archaeological discoveries of the ayahuasca rituals, these findings also reveal other cultural practices of the indigenous Shaman. For instance, the owner of the pouch was likely a trader or a long-distance traveler.
Yage plant that produces harmine grows hundreds of miles from Cueva del Chileno, in Northern South America. The researchers believe that these DMT remains came from Chacruna plants, and the closest ones are in the Amazonian lowlands.
“This person was moving very large distances or had access to people who were.”
Also, no evidence indicates the Shaman actually used or brewed the drugs based on what was discovered in the pouch.
An ethnopharmacologist, Dennis McKenna, said that modern preparations of ayahuasca are “idiosyncratic.”
He added that “Every shaman practically has his own brew.”
Capriles also believes that the pouch wasn’t left at this cave by mistake.
“We believe that it was left intentionally,” he said.
“This is a typical behavior that you see in ritually charged places,” he added.
Capriles also believes that the ancient use of ayahuasca was rooted in physical and spiritual works, as opposed to recreation.
He said, “these people were not just tripping because of entertainment.”
McKenna agrees with Capriles argument, saying that the use of ayahuasca has changed in the modern world.
McKenna said, “it’s used very differently these days — not necessarily in a worse way, but a different way.”
He added, “When I use these substances, I am usually astonished by what I experience. They must have been astonished, too.”