Ancient seeds courtesy of a doctor - or a doctor feel good : In 2011, archeologists in the Netherlands discovered an ancient pit fitted with 86,000 animal bones at a Roman-Era farmstead near the city of Utrecht.

It fell to Martijn van Haasteren, an archaeologist at the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, to sort through them.

Deep into the cataloging process, Mr. van Haasteren was cleaning the mud from yet another bone when something unexpected happened : Hundreds of black specks the size of poppy seeds came pouring out from one end.

The specks turned out to be seeds of black henbane, a potently poisonous member of the nightshade family that can be medicinal or hallucinogenic depending on the dosage.

The bone - hollowed out and sealed with a tar plug - was an ancient stash pouch that had kept the seeds safe for some 1,900 years.

This '' very special '' discovery provides the first definitive evidence that indigenous people living in such a far-flung Roman province had knowledge of black henbane's powerful properties, said Maaike Groot, an archaeologist at the Free University of Berlin and a co-author of a paper published in the journal Antiquity describing the finding.

The plant was mostly used during Roman times as an ointment for pain relief, although some sources also reference smoking its seeds or adding its leaves to wine.

It seems its psychedelic effects came to the fore in the Middle Ages, when black henbane became associated with '' witches and summoning demons,'' said Mr. van Haasteren, who is co-author of the new paper.

Astrid Van Oyen, an archaeologist at Radboud University in Nijmegen, who was not involved in the research, said : '' This find shows us a rare glimpse of a possible way in which people navigated and mediated the anxieties, stresses, hopes and aspirations of daily life.'' [ Rachel Nuwer ]


Post a Comment

Grace A Comment!