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Hemp History

Hemp History
Read about the rich history of hemp and hemp products:

8000 - 7000 BCE: The earliest known fabric is woven from hemp.

The Columbia History of the World states that the oldest evidence of human industry is a bit of hemp fabric found in Taiwan that dates back to approximately 8,000 BCE1, but according to The Great Book of Hemp, a 12,000 years old Neolithic site unearthed at Yuan-Shan included coarse, sandy pottery with hempen cord marks covering the surface, and an incised, rod-shaped stone beater used to pound hemp into cord.2

Scattered among the trash and debris from this prehistoric community were some broken pieces of pottery the sides of which had been decorated by pressing strips of cord into the wet clay before it hardened. Also dispersed among the pottery fragments were some elongated rod-shaped tools, very similar in appearance to those later used to loosen cannabis fibers from their stems.3 These simple pots, with their patterns of twisted fiber embedded in their sides, suggest that men have been using the marijuana plant in some manner since the dawn of history.

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4000 BCE: The earliest well-documented evidence of cannabis use.

Yang Shao hemp-cord imprinted amphoraThe earliest well-documented evidence of cannabis use is from China, where carbon -14 dating has confirmed it from 4000 BCE1. An abundance of archaeological evidence proves the continuous cultivation of hemp from prehistoric times. Among the items excavated from a late Neolithic site in Zhejiang provinces, several textile articles were found made of hemp and silk. Cannabis was primarily an important fiber plant. It was used extensively in making ropes, cordage, fishnets: fabrics of all kinds.

Imprints of hemp textiles and cordage adorn several fragments of pottery found amongst the ruins of Xi'an Banpo village in Shaanxi province.  Through the C14 dating of these remains, they were confirmed as cultural relics of the Yangshao culture (4115 +/- 110 BCE to 3535 +/105 BCE)2.  

The Yangshao culture  was a Neolithic culture that existed extensively along the central Yellow River in China. The culture flourished mainly in the provinces of Henan, Shaanxi and Shanxi. It is dated from around 5000 BC to 3000 BC. The Yangshao culture produced silk to a small degree, wove hemp and produced pottery. They wore hemp clothing and domesticated pigs and dogs.1 Although the imprints of textiles and cordage could have been made from fibers other than hemp, hemp remains the most likely choice.  

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2700 BCE: Shennong pen Ts'ao first describes cannabis use

Shennong pen Ts'ao king is a Chinese book on agriculture and medicinal plants. It survives as a copy made c. 500 CE and describes about 365 herbs.1 The book's origin has been attributed to the mythical Chinese emperor Shennung (Shennong), who was said to have lived around 2700 BCE. In its text cannabis is referred to as a "superior" herb.

Shennong has been thought to have taught the ancient Chinese not only their practices of agriculture, but also the use of herbal drugs.2 Shennong cannot be said to be a completely historical figure.. Researchers hypothesize that writings credited to this ' Devine Farmer' are really a compilation of oral traditions written between about 300 BCE and 200 CE.

The “Lu Shi,” a Chinese work of the Sung dynasty, about 500 CE, contains a statement that the Emperor Shen Nung, in the twenty-eighth century B.C., first taught the people of China to cultivate “ma” (hemp) for making hempen cloth.3

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2300 - 1700 BCE: The Oxus Civilization uses ephedra and cannabis in their rituals

Oxus civilisationGonur ExcavationsThe Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (or BMAC, also known as the Oxus civilization) is the modern archaeological designation for a Bronze Age culture of Central Asia, dated to ca. 2300–1700 BCE, located in present day Turkmenistan, northern Afghanistan and northeastern Iran, southern Uzbekistan and western Tajikistan, centered on the upper Amu Darya (Oxus).

Its sites were discovered and named by the Soviet archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi. Bactria was the Greek name for the area of Bactra (modern Balkh), in what is now northern Afghanistan, and Margiana was the Greek name for the Persian satrapy of Margu, the capital of which was Merv, in today's Turkmenistan.

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c.1550 BCE: The Ebers Papyrus from Ancient Egypt describes medical cannabis

Ebers PapyrusThe Ebers Papyrus (named after the German eqyptologist who purchased it in Thebes in 1873), is among the oldest and most important of the medical papyri of ancient Egypt. It is thought to have been written around 1550 BCE, yet many scholars think that it is a compilation of older works, perhaps dating as far back as 3400 BCE.

The Ebers Papyrus suggests a number of remedies, including ground corn, celery ground in cow's milk, and hemp ground in honey, all of which were inserted into the vagina.1

Other ancient Egyptian papyri that mention medical cannabis are the Ramesseum III Papyrus (1700 BCE), the Berlin Papyrus (1300 BCE) and the Chester Beatty Medical Papyrus VI (1300 BCE).

Around 2,000 BCE, the ancient Egyptians used cannabis to treat sore eyes. The ancient Egyptians even used hemp in suppositories for relieving the pain of hemorrhoids. Professor of Egyptology at the University of Copenhagen, Lise Manniche notes the reference to "plant medical cannabis" in several Egyptian texts, one of which dates back to the eighteenth century BCE.2

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750 BCE: Assyrians use marijuana medicine to "bannish ghost of child birth"

Assyrian clay tablet mentions cannabis as medicineThe ancient Assyrian kingdom existed as a nation state from the mid 23rd Century BCE to 608  BCE and centered on the Upper Tigris river in northern Mesopotamia (present day northern Iraq).

During his 7th century BCE reign, the famous Ashurai king Ashurbanipal sent emissaries far afield in search of ancient texts and recovered many invaluable records, including the oldest stories of Adam and Eve and the Flood.
He copied many from cuneiform originals thousands of years older and sealed them within a vast underground library he specially constructed for the purpose. In the late 19th century archaeologists Sir Henry Layard and Hormuzd Rassam found this unique time capsule intact and recovered a huge cache of 50,000 tablets.

One such tablet has a fragment recording an ancient Assyrian herbal remedy which uses cannabis for “banishing the ghosts of childbirth.” One of a number of cuneiform medical texts and prescriptions recovered from King Ashurbanipal’s famous underground library in Nineveh during the late 19th century.

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600 - 400 BCE: Genesis 1-23 “I give you every seed-bearing plant..."

cannabis plant550 BCE: Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth..." - Genesis 1-23

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450 BCE: Scythians use cannabis in funeral rituals

Scythian princess buries with cannabis seedsIn antiquity, Scythian was a terms used by the Greeks to refer to certain groups of horse-riding nomadic pastoralists who resided on the Pontic-Caspian steppe. The name "Scythian", and the related word Saka (in Persian), was also used to refer to various peoples seen as similar to the Scythians, or who lived anywhere in a vast area covering present-day Central Asia, Russia, Romania and Ukraine—known until medieval times as Scythia.

Most of our information about them came from the Greeks. Herodotus describes how Scythians used cannabis, both to weave their clothing and to cleanse themselves in its smoke (Hist. 4.73-75); archaeology has confirmed the use of cannabis in funeral rituals.[1] Herodotus also describes a meeting involving such fumigation leading to collective hilarity of the participants. Cannabis was a characteristic of the Scythian belief system, they used cannabis to induce trance and divination by soothsayers.[2]

Archeologists found a container of cannabis in the burial chamber of a 2,500 year old mummified Scythian 'princess', as if she might require it in the afterlife.[2] Preserved in ice in an elaborate grave in the Altai Mountains, the ancient woman - famous for her remarkable tattoos - possibly took cannabis to dull the ravages of her illnesses, experts have discovered.

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400 BCE: Hopewell tradition Mound Builders smoke marijuana and produce hemp fabrics

Hopewell PipesThe group of cultures collectively called Mound Builders were prehistoric inhabitants of North America who constructed various styles of earthen mounds for burial, residential, religious and ceremonial purposes.

Since the 19th century, the prevailing scholarly consensus has been that the mounds were constructed by Indigenous peoples of the Americas, early cultures distinctly separate from the historical Native American tribes extant at the time of European colonization of North America. The historical Native Americans were generally not knowledgeable about the civilizations that produced the mounds. Research and study of these cultures and peoples has been based on archaeology and anthropology.

In 1891, in  his study of Prehistoric Textile Art of Eastern United States, Smithsonian Institute ethnologist W. H. Holmes showed that the ancient Mound-Builders utilized cannabis. Hundreds of clay pipes,  some containing cannabis residues and wrapped in hemp cloth, dating back to 400 B.C.E were found in the so-called Death Mask Mound of the Hopewell Mound Builders (Hopewell Tradition) who lived in the Northeastern and Midwestern United States, modern Ohio.[1]

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6th century BCE - The holy anointing oil from the Book of Exodus is (probably) made with cannabis

In the Book of Exodus (arguably written in the sixth century BCE), holy anointing oil is described as an integral part of the ordination of the priesthood and the High Priests of the ancient Israelites. The primary purpose of anointing with the holy anointing oil was to cause the anointed persons or objects to become qodesh, or "most holy" (Exodus 30:29).

The holy anointing oil described in Exodus 30:22-25 was created from:

    Pure myrrh (מר דרור mar deror) 500 shekels (about 6 kg)
    Sweet cinnamon (קינמון בשם kinnemon besem) 250 shekels (about 3 kg)
    Kaneh bosem (קְנֵה-בֹשֶׂם kaneh bosm) 250 shekels (about 3 kg)
    Cassia (קדה kiddah) 500 shekels (about 6 kg)
    Olive oil (שמן זית shemen zayit) one hin (about 5 quarts according to Adam Clarke; about 4 liters according to Shiurei Torah, 7 liters according to the Chazon Ish)

While sources agree about the identity of four of the five ingredients of anointing oil, the identity of the fifth, "kaneh bosem", has been a matter of debate. The Bible indicates that it was an aromatic cane or grass, which was imported from a distant land by way of the spice routes, and that a related plant grows naturally in Israel.[1][2] Several different plants have been named as possibly being the "kaneh bosem".

Polish anthropologist, Sula Benet in Early Diffusion and Folk Uses of Hemp (1967), identified kaneh bosem as cannabis.[3]
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan notes that "On the basis of cognate pronunciation and Septuagint readings, some identify Keneh bosem with the English and Greek cannabis, the hemp plant. There are, however, some authorities who identify the 'sweet cane' with cinnamon bark (Radak, Sherashim). Some say that kinman is the wood, and keneh bosem is the bark (Abarbanel)." [4] Benet in contrast argued that equating Keneh Bosem with sweet cane could be traced to a mistranslation in the Septuagint, which mistook Keneh Bosem, later referred to as "cannabos" in the Talmud, as "kalabos", a common Egyptian marsh cane plant.[3]


1. G. Johannes Botterweck; Helmer Ringgren; Heinz-Josef Fabry (January 2004). Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 68–. ISBN 978-0-8028-2337-3.
2. J. Cheryl Exum (1 January 2005). Song of Songs: A Commentary. Westminster John Knox Press. pp. 179–. ISBN 978-0-664-22190-4.
3. Sula Benet, Early Diffusion and Folk Uses of Hemp (1967)
4. Kaplan, Aryeh. The Living Torah New York 1981.p. 442

400 BCE - Scythians smoke marijuana from golden bongs

Scythian Bong In 2013 archaeologists unearthed a pair of "bongs" made of pure gold that date back to 2,400 years ago.

The historic paraphernalia, which were once used by tribal chiefs to smoke cannabis and opium, were discovered in a massive grave mound in the Caucasus Mountains of southern Russia. Stavropol-based archaeologist Andrei Belinski found the ancient gold treasure when he was excavating a grave mound, called Sengileevskoe-2, to clear the way for a power-line project.

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