Scientists studying residue on an ancient Israeli altar found something they didn't expect: cannabis. And it appears those present knew exactly what they were doing. They figured out a way to keep it burning at a low temperature to get worshipers high, reports Haaretz. The sample was found on one of two limestone altars at a 2,700-year-old temple in Tel Arad in the Negev Desert. This temple was actually discovered decades ago, but it wasn't until now that chemical analysis became sophisticated enough to determine what was burned there during rituals. One altar had frankincense, which wasn't surprising given the times. Researchers say it was mixed with animal fat to burn at a high temperature and release its fragrance. The surprise came on the second altar, where scientists found a decent amount of THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, per the BBC.
"To induce a high you need the right temperature, and they clearly knew this well, just as they knew which fuel to use for each substance," says Dvory Namdar of Israel’s Agricultural Research Organization and one of the authors of the study. The trick? Worshipers mixed the cannabis with animal dung so it would burn at a low temperature, explains Science News. This is the first evidence that ancient Israelites used cannabis, and researchers speculate that it likely came from afar, perhaps what is now China or Russia. But exactly how they acquired it and learned about it remains unclear. Another question: If they were using it in rituals, why is there no mention of cannabis in the Bible, as there is for frankincense? One theory noted by Haaretz is that it does appear but under a different name. The researchers hope biblical scholars will now dig into that possibility. (Read more discoveries stories.)