The prehistory of cannabis in the Americas is really a mystery that has not yet been fully explained, and in order to do so, it is important to analyse man's relationship with this plant since ancient times.
The prehistory of cannabis in the Americas is really a mystery that has not yet been fully explained, and in order to do so, it is important to analyse man’s relationship with this plant since ancient times.
Although little has been published on this subject and even less research carried out, we can date the presence of Cannabis sativa L. to before the arrival of the Spanish on this continent, even though it was not produced on a large scale. Although there are many theories regarding the exact date when humans first appeared on the continent of America, it is generally thought that this occurred around 14,000 years ago, when several groups migrated across the Bering Strait from Asia, where cannabis originated. (Also check Carl Ruck at the Cannabis Roots conference. Click here to go to the blog post, Ed.)
The subclass Rosidae dates back 100 million years and since cannabis is therefore older than humankind, the relationship between humans and this plant must have started with Homo erectus, around 1.7 million years ago. Homo erectus was a tall, powerfully built hominid, with a large cranium and who was very skilled at creating tools. Moreover, this hominid managed to control the use of fire. Homo erectus originated in Africa and spread across Asia and Europe. Over the ensuing hundreds of thousands of years, it became the first nomadic species to migrate all across the globe. Therefore, a plant that provided fibre, wood and oil, had magical and religious uses and grew in under 100 days could scarcely be ignored by these practical primitive humans, experts at surviving in incredibly difficult conditions.
Many new human genetic variations have been found in various parts of the world, such as the latest ones in Russia, or those of a “man” found in Asia. Homo erectus might have been wiped out by another group or might have died out due to a lack of natural resources. Regardless, the survival techniques this hominid species developed were passed on and improved.
Oldest cannabis remains
Neanderthal man, Homo neanderthalensis, disappeared between 230,000 and 28,000 years ago, and over the last 1.5 million years many human species also became extinct, such as Homo floreciensis, which disappeared around 12,000 years ago. Homo sapiens is the only surviving species of the genus Homo.
With so many races interacting and developing together, it is easy to imagine how the plant travelled with the humans who migrated across the Bering Strait, or even crossed the globe in other ways. The oldest known archaeological remains of cannabis were found in Taiwan and date back around 10,000 years, while the oldest American remains date back to 3,000 BC. According to some theories, the Bering Strait may have frozen over, creating an ice bridge that was used by the ancient peoples from southern latitudes such as Africa to travel to the New World. These nomadic peoples were cattle farmers and many of them followed trade routes. However, mass migrations also occurred, often due to natural disasters.
The Clovis People
The Clovis Culture, named after the town in New Mexico where it was first identified, is considered to be the earliest established human culture in the New World. Carbon-14 dating at a Pleistocene indigenous settlement discovered here suggests that the remains are around 13,500 years old. Moreover, at the El Fin del Mundo site in the Mexican state of Sonora, hunting artefacts from the Clovis people have been found, dating back to 13,000 BP (Before Present).
Although some archaeological evidence would appear to back the theory that there were pre-Clovis settlements in the New World, most archaeologists believe that the Clovis people were the first inhabitants of the Americas. The primary support for this is the lack of solid evidence of any pre-Clovis human presence.
The standard accepted theory establishes the date of the earliest human inhabitation of the New World as being when the Clovis people made their way into North America by crossing the Bering Strait via the Bering land bridge, a landmass that connected Siberia to Alaska during a period of lowered sea levels during the ice age. As the glaciers retreated, the Clovis people made their way southwards via an ice-free corridor east of the Rocky Mountains.
Pre-Clovis in America
However, a number of archaeological sites have yielded evidence of a pre-Clovis population in the Americas. In Central and South America, these sites suggest far earlier cultures, and archaeologists have long shared this discovery thanks to examples such as the Monte Verde Level I and Level II sites near Puerto Montt in Chile, discovered in 1997, which contain evidence of human presence dating back to 13,000 BP (Bonatto & Bolzano, 1997), and even to over 20,000 BP.
Piedra Museo, in Argentina, Santa Cruz, is an archaeological site discovered in around 1910 by Florentino Ameghino, an archaeologist who classified as many as 9,000 extinct animals, most discovered by him. Even today, his catalogues are invaluable to academics all over the world. In 1995, Laura Miotti, also from Argentina, analysed the remains, which date from 12,890 BP.
The cave paintings at the Pedra Furada site in São Raimundo Nonato, east of Piauí, in Brazil were discovered by a French-Brazilian team in 1973. Artefacts have been found dating from 32,000 up to 60,000 BP, which suggest that humans from North Africa had travelled in what must have been thousands of rudimentary boats to the coast of present-day Brazil, whilst the Clovis Culture was developing in the north. There are even towns along the Atlantic coast that have African names.
To be continued.
Author : David Hurtado