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Archeological study suggest a new origin story for cannabis domestication

Posted on July 18, 2016   by Ricardo Oliveira

Cannabis is a uniquely versatile plant with innumerous material, medicinal, recreational, and nutritional applications. It is considered one of the world’s oldest cultivated plants, and it is part of the cultural heritage of many traditional societies. However important, the history of its domestication remains poorly understood.

Several hypotheses for the origin of cannabis have been proposed throughout the years, of which two have gained most traction in the academia. One of them suggests that the plant was first adopted in ancient China, as evidenced by the findings of early written records, while the other puts Central Asia as the home of cannabis since the region holds the largest biodiversity of the plant.

Although compelling, both theories present problems of their own. Previous studies have shown that the domestication site of a plant need not match its natural center for biodiversity. For example, rice was long thought to have originated in the biodiverse center of the neighboring regions of modern China and India, a hypothesis that was largely rejected in light of recent archeological and genetic evidence. On the other hand, archeological evidence in the form of fossilized pollen, achenes (dry fruits), and traces in ropes and ceramics is very likely to predate written records of any domesticated plant.

To better elucidate the origins of cannabis, a group of researchers led by Dr. Tengwen Long from the German Archaeological Institute and the Free University of Berlin decided to put the two theories to the test. To achieve this, they conducted a comprehensive review of the existing archaeological data on cannabis. The results were surprising: no theory seemed to be correct.

Their analysis revealed that archeological evidence of cannabis exploration, more than 8000 years old, had been systematically reported in two distant parts of the world: East Asia and Europe. In Europe, records of fossilized pollen and achenes in raw form or imprinted in ceramics could be traced continuously from the sixth millennium BC up to the third millennium BC. In East Asia, large quantities of pollen and hemp fibers existed during the same period. Achene records, on the other hand, were much more infrequent until the third and second millennia BC, during which a marked increase was seen. Outside of these regions, records were generally much more scattered and relatively younger.

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Original article: http://news.lift.co/archeological-study-suggests-new-origin-story-cannabis-domestication/

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