Psychedelic beer served for political gain

The ancient Wari empire of Peru that ruled the Andes between 500 and 1100 CE likely served beer laced with ayahuasca to garner support and allegiance from other groups, according to new research. Archaeobotanists excavating at a small Wari outpost in Quilcapampa, far from the Wari's home region, found seeds from the vilca tree that produces a potent psychedelic compound with effects similar to ayahuasca. Thing is, the vilca tree doesn't grow in that area, suggesting that the Wari brought it with them. From Science:

The idea that the Wari used hallucinogens for political maneuvering and not solitary religious rituals "makes a lot of sense," says University of North Carolina, Greensboro, archaeologist and Wari expert Donna Nash, who was not involved in the research[…]

Why they brought the drug was another question. Consumed alone, vilca brings on intense, private hallucinations. However, when added to alcohol—particularly the fermented fruits of the molle tree—the seed's hallucinogenic compounds are diluted but remain active. "Instead of an abrupt out-of-body experience, you would have a more elongated high [that] you would be able to enjoy with other people," says Royal Ontario Museum archaeologist Justin Jennings, who led the excavation. "[The Wari] take something that is an antisocial drug and make it a social one."

Sure enough, the vilca at Quilcapampa was found near pits full of desiccated seeds from the berries of the molle tree, which had been soaked and fermented, presumably to make a strong beer known as chicha. That suggests vilca was a controlled substance, Jennings says. He and his colleagues also think it may have been used to make friends with the locals and influence regional elites, likely during exclusive feasts or parties. "The Wari are telling the locals, 'Bring the molle, and we're going to add the special sauce.'"

"Hallucinogens, alcohol and shifting leadership strategies in the ancient Peruvian Andes" (Antiquity)

image: Vilca tree motif from Conchopata, Peru, J. OCHATOMA PARAVICINO/M. E. BIWAR ET. AL., ANTIQUITY (2021)