Archaeologists find in Israel the first evidence of the use of opium in the world

This exciting discovery confirms historical writings and archaeological hypotheses according to which the opium and its trade played a fundamental role in the cultures of the Middle East”, specifies a statement from the Tel-Aviv University who carried out the investigation in conjunction with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and the Weizmann Institute of Science.

This finding revealshe first known evidence of the use of the hallucinogenic drug opium, and of psychoactive drugs in general, in the world”, the statement points out.


The remains of opium were found in ceramic pots, which were apparently used in funerary rituals and were found in Canaanite tombs at Tel Yehud in central Israel.

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This is the only psychoactive drug that has been found in the Levant in the late Bronze Age. In 2020, researchers discovered cannabis residue on a Tel Arad altar, but this one dated to the Iron Age, hundreds of years after the Tel Yehud opium”, explained Vanessa Linares, whose doctoral thesis promoted this discovery.


$!Archaeologist Vanessa Linares works at a Canaanite tomb site in Tel Yehud, central Israel.

Archaeologist Vanessa Linares works at a Canaanite tomb site in Tel Yehud, central Israel.

In Linares’ opinion, it is still not possible to determine if Yehud’s Canaanites believed that the dead they would need opium in the afterlifeor if they were the priests who used the drug to officiate the ceremonyhowever, specified that this discovery evidences the opium trade in general.

Opium is produced from the poppy, which grew in Asia Minor, in present-day Turkey, while the ceramics in which opium was identified were made in Cyprus.

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In other words, the opium was brought to Yehud from Turkey, via Cyprus; this indicates the importance that was attributed to the drug”, emphasized Linares.

In 2012, the AAI conducted a salvage excavation at the site of Tel Yehud, before residences were built. There they discovered various Canaanite tombs from the Late Bronze Age and, next to them, funerary offerings, many of them ceramic vessels.

Those manufactured in Cyprus and called “base ring jugs”, have a shape that is similar to that of the poppy flower when it is closed and upside down, due to this in the 19th century the hypothesis arose that they were used as ritual containers for the drug.


Currently, thanks to an analysis of organic residues, “Traces of opium have been revealed in eight pots, some local and some made in Cyprus. It is the first time that opium has been found on pottery in general, and on base ring vessels in particular.r,” Tel Aviv University concluded.

With information from the EFE Agency.

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