3,000-year-old evidence of psychoactive drug use in Europe

Some hair found in an ancient funerary cave on the Spanish island of Menorca has been found to contain traces of ephedrine. Deep inside the burial site, over 200 bodies were found, along with a collection of sealed tubes containing carefully preserved locks of hair taken from purportedly notable guests. It is assumed the use of mind-altering drugs held some religious or societal importance, and thus, these folk's hair was kept, but they might have just had pretty hair, and everyone was on drugs.

Maybe just evidence of the first person who liked to play with people's hair when stoned.


Because the tubes in Menorca's Es Càrritx cave containing the hair were found in a sealed chamber — untouched since 800 BC — it's unlikely that the compounds were introduced by modern contamination of the site, Guerra-Doce said. Rather, the hair absorbed the chemicals after ingestion. Drug consumption took place for nearly a year before death, based on analysis along the length of the strands.

Discoveries from Es Càrritx could also shed light on how ritual drug use may have defined certain roles in prehistoric European societies. As only a fraction of the individuals in the burial chamber had their hair dyed, cut and preserved, they may have held special status linked to their use of psychoactive plants, Guerra-Doce said.

"We suggest that maybe there were certain people — religious specialists — who controlled their use of these drugs," she said. "All this evidence made it seem that maybe certain individuals deserved this hair treatment, and those individuals were the ones who consumed the drugs."