Cypriot vessels used for opiates, not perfume

For the first time ever, researchers have found traces of opiates in a Cypriot vessel dating from the late Bronze Age[1]. The findings contradict earlier claims that the vessels contained no opium but perfumed oils, something that was reported by the scientific journal Antiquity in 2016[2].
Vessels of this type, known as base-ring juglets, have long been thought to have links with opium use because they resemble the inverted seed head of the opium poppy. They are known to have been widely traded in the eastern Mediterranean in 1650 – 1350BC.

It is a rare example of an intact vessel with contents sealed inside. Initial analysis by scientists at the British Museum showed that the juglet residue was mostly composed of a plant oil but hinted at the possible presence of papaverine, an opium alkaloid.

To resolve the issue, a new method was used to indentify the substance, developed by Rachel Smith. “We found the alkaloids in degraded plant oil, so the question as to how opium would have been used in this juglet still remains. Could it have been one ingredient amongst others in an oil-based mixture, or could the juglet have been re-used for oil after the opium or something else entirely?”

Dozens of similar clay vases which have been found at sites in Syria and Egypt are believed to have been made on Cyprus at the time and transported to other countries.

Heroin, morphine and other opiates trace their origins to a single plant, the opium poppy. Cultivation of the plant dates back to the earliest years of human civilisation, and opium use was well known in ancient times. The earliest reference to opium use and the cultivation of opium poppies comes from Mesopotamia around 3,400BC. The narcotic drug has been used both recreationally and as a medicine for centuries.

[1] Smith et al: Detection of opium alkaloids in a Cypriot base-ring juglet in Analyst – 2018
[2] Bunimovitz and Lederman: Opium or oil? Late Bronze Age Cypriot Base Ring juglets and international trade revisited in Antiquity - 2016

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