All civilization spread from a central location, according to the history books. What might also have started in one place long ago is cannabis. It turns out, one tribe of ancient people might have started it all. Meet the Yamnaya, the original weed dealers.
Yamnaya, history’s biggest weed dealers
Anthropologists believe 3 or 4 prehistoric cultures grew to dominance, founding the Bronze Age in Eurasia. Their genetic lines permeate much of today’s population. Their nomadic lifestyle explains how many far-flung cultures from China to Norway began to rise in technology simultaneously.
When other major cultures were still foundering in the beginnings of society, one people came from the Steppes. With them, they brought advanced technologies such as metalworking, horseback riding, and the wheel, among others. One of those other valuable artifacts was cannabis. The Yamnaya spread their culture, genetics, technology, and love of cannabis far and wide.
It is hard for us to imagine what nomadic life would be like for ancient peoples. But when food is scarce and often walks on four legs, travelling is the best way to stay ahead of starvation. In addition, regular migratory routes help to avoid the worst elements of seasonal weather, and form tight-knit communities among their tribes.
The Yamnaya thrived in this way. They combined the domestic growth of crops with the nomadic tending of herds. When it was time to harvest, they traveled back to where the crops were planted, retracing many hundreds of miles, and settled in a warmer region for winter.
Widespread in a short time
The spread of the Yamnaya occurred about 5,000 years ago, and it wasn’t until the rise of the Yamnaya that its recreational use became prolific in multiple cultures. The recently published research titled Vegetation History and Archaeobotany says:
“The cannabis plant seems to have been distributed widely from as early as 10,000 years ago, or even earlier.”
They study authors posit that the active trading of Yamnaya nomads brought the recreational use of cannabis into greater popularity. Their path took them through a route known as the Hexi Corridor, encouraging both Eastern and Western cultures.
And so it began
Within a few centuries, the practice was prolific in China. It spread to Northern Europe and the Viking civilization, who may have spread the plant further, even to the New World. It also traveled southwest, to the Scythians, whom ancient Greek historian Herodotus writes would throw the plant on a fire and huddle over it with cloths covering themselves. The Scythians loved to hotbox.
“That no Grecian vapour-bath can surpass…transported by the vapor, [they] shout aloud.”
Other places ancient cannabis has been found include Siberian tombs dating to 3,000 BCE, royal tombs in China, and Viking burial mounds. But no culture shows such prolific use as far back as the Yamnaya, at least so far.