Caribbean Bowls Reveal Ancient…Drug Habit?

By Nina Bai | October 21, 2008 12:42 pm

caribbeanIf you were setting sail for foreign lands, perhaps never to return home, what would you take with you? The first settlers of the Caribbean Islands, when faced with this decision, chose to take their bongs, which they passed down as heirlooms to future generations.

Researchers at North Carolina State University have dated the ceramic inhaling bowls and snuffing tubes found on the island of Carriacou to several centuries before the island was first inhabited—meaning the bowls were brought by settlers from South America or neighboring islands, and were already heirlooms when they made the trip.

To find out just how old the bowls were, the researchers used luminescence dating, a technique that measures the amount of light energy trapped in crystals, which increases with time. The bowls found on Carriacou were dated to roughly 400 B.C., and were found amidst much younger deposits, a sign that they were valued possessions passed down from generation to generation. They were used for consuming hallucinogenic substances, probably the drug cohoba, and played a part in important rituals.

Drug paraphernalia from that period often took on the shapes of animals—birds for their flight, turtles for their ability to inhabit both land and water, and bats, which were believed to be possessed by the souls of ancestors who would emerge at night to eat guava fruit and sleep with unsuspecting women.

Related Content:

DISCOVER: Could an Acid Trip Cure Your OCD?
DISCOVER: Raw Data: Do Magic Mushrooms Make You Mystical?

Image: flickr/ urbanshoregirl

MORE ABOUT: archaeology, drugs

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


Quirky, funny, and surprising science news from the edge of the known universe.

See More

Collapse bottom bar