The ancient Wari empire used to mix the hallucinogens on the Vilca tree with beer for parties

Across the Andes, stretching skyward from arid tropical rainforests, is a discreet plant that can set your mind on fire. While the shell of Anadenanthera colubrinaAlso known as vilca, which can be used to make tea and whose leaves are used as a dye, it is the thin disc-shaped seeds inside the flattened, 13-inch-long shell that have attracted people’s attention for 4,000 years. They are filled with high amounts of bufotenine, a potent hallucinogen same as LSD.

To travel vilca, modern and ancient people smoked it or used it as an enema because you can’t just eat the seeds to get the high. Enzymes in the gut neutralize the psychedelic effects of vilca when ingested. But one The new study was published Wednesday in the journal Ancient reveal it Wari civilization who ruled the Peruvian Andes from 600 to 1,000 AD was probably the first to find a way to overcome this difficulty. Answer? Of course, they mix drugs with their beer.

More specifically, Wari mixes vilca seeds with chicha, a beer-like beverage brewed from a plant called Schinus molle, (or molle del Peru, better known in the United States as Peruvian chili). A chemical produced during fermentation called beta-carboline can block the action of intestinal enzymes. If you drink molle chicha mixed with vilca, you can still feel the psychotropic effects of vilca — maybe a little weaker than vilca smoked or administered as an enema, but longer.

“This is another example of how drugs were used in the past, which can help us reflect on what has shaped the role drugs play in our society and how that is changing. a little like,” said Matthew Biwer, a paleontologist at Dickinson University and lead author of the new study.

A vilca seed with the ability to produce hallucinogenic effects, unearthed from Quilcampa, Peru.

Matthew Biwer / Royal Ontario Museum

Researchers previously suspected some sort of party was going on when they found images of vilca seed pods on ancient Wari jars used to serve chicha. We now have proof thanks to new evidence unearthed at Quilcampa, Peru, an arid and arid site where archaeologists found piles of meth and vilca seeds. The combination of these items suggests that the Wari threw a huge party of drugs and alcohol shortly before they abandoned Quilcampa in the mid-ninth century.

A total of 1,400,361 molle stalks were found at the site, along with tons of disfigured drugs (signs that they were soaked and turned into alcohol). The lack of utensils, the recovery of vilca seeds from the Wari population compounds, the proximity of pits filled with molle drupes, and the known image of vilca seeds on a molle chicha pitcher all provide “convincing evidence for the making of beer.” molle soaked in vilca. the authors write.

What we still don’t know is how Wari figured out this trick, says Biwer. “It’s one of those things that it’s like, how do things happen? How do people figure out how to do this? “


Location of Quilcampa, Peru.

Historical Antiquities Magazine.

What is clear is that Wari used vilca in a new way and with a new purpose. This is the earliest evidence of people mixing hallucinogens with alcohol in this area.

It also differs from how mind-altering substances were shared before and after the reign of this empire. Before the Wari, other Andean societies made hallucinogens available only to a limited elite. The Wari leadership also retains the privilege of owning the vilca. But this new evidence shows that they organized parties where they eliminated hallucinogens to gatherings of 40 to 50 people. The Incas, the latecomers, would continue this general trend – scaling it up to mass consumption of corn beer as a tool to bring people together.

Biwar and his team see this unusual community drug party in Quilcampa as an attempt to exercise social power and promote social cohesion — a situation in which leaders strengthen their status. their heights by sharing their drugs in these psychotropic parties.

That’s not too surprising: There are so many learn shows how illusions can bring people together thanks to mood-enhancing effects. These qualities are the big reason why hallucinations are being explored so strongly as a mental health therapy.

“Psychostimulants make us feel something different, and that can become a tool for individuals and groups to shape what people experience.”

– Daniel Lende

Biwer suggests that this shift in drug use could have been a big reason the Wari empire lasted for 400 years. “I think it has to be a very effective strategy to build alliances and promote social cohesion,” he said. “It serves as a mechanism to bring people together. And as a host of parties, you incur a debt from guests who owe you for providing the experience. It had to work until it didn’t – until the Wari empire fell. ”

New York University medical anthropologist Olivia Marcus, who studies the modern effects of ayahuasca in the upper Amazon region of Peru and was not involved in the new study, points out that although the Wari people have Possibly the first Andean civilization to mix alcohol and vilca, they are a far cry from the first peoples addicted to drugs. Some of the first cultivated plants are psychostimulants — a fact that paints “a picture of the preferences of ancient humans,” she says.

Marcus told The Daily Beast: “Human use of psychoactive drugs has certainly played an important role in spiritual, ceremonial and political phenomena.


A potion of the Wari Empire.

Lisa Milosavljevic, Royal Ontario Museum

While there are societies that don’t show evidence of psychoactive drug use, Marcus thinks it’s fair to say that these drugs have the potential to be tools for social cohesion. . We are now seeing this in contemporary contexts, from European-style psilocybin retreats, for the Native South American use of ayahuasca as Siona as part of them fight against exploitation.

Wanting to feel connected to a group or to explore altered states of consciousness are behaviors found in all human cultures. “Strategies to achieve this are extremely dynamic,” says Marcus. Wari has the same goal as those who came before and after them, and they’ve pioneered a new way to get there: making a popular cocktail that can make you feel like you’re interacting with spirits .

But despite the success of Wari, we can’t necessarily say that all psychoactive drugs have the power to bring people together. The effect of these drugs on social cohesion depends on how the groups attribute meaning to the experience, says Daniel Lende, an anthropologist at the University of South Florida who was not involved in the study. Lende points out that a pint of beer doesn’t mean too much, but it becomes so in the context of friends getting together at a party.

“We have to accept that ancient humans had a lot of fun and clearly enjoyed exploring the depths of the psyche or what was considered other reality.”

– Olivia Marcus

“Stimulating drugs make us feel something different, and that can become a tool for individuals and groups to shape what people experience,” Lende told The Daily Beast.

Nor can we really say that modern ideas about how hallucinations can help us are simply an extension of how humans took those drugs thousands of years ago, psychologists say. clinical Kevin St. Arnaud told The Daily Beast.

If you live in the modern West, you might be taught that psychostimulants are “at worst, inherently problematic or dangerous, and at best, a temporary hedonic escape,” St. Arnaud said. This is not how it happened with Wari, and it is not how it is for some other societies.


Quilcampa Archaeological Site.

Lisa Milosavljevic / Royal Ontario Museum

That’s something to consider in the current push de-identification of psychoactive substances as psilocybin and is FDA approved for prescription hallucinations. The social impacts and subsequent therapeutic benefits associated with hallucinogenic drugs are highly dependent on exactly how, by whom, and for what purposes the drug is used.

St. Arnaud thinks today’s society is missing an opportunity to learn how to use psychostimulants to enhance “personal, social and spiritual well-being”. But hallucinating alone won’t promote social cohesion, he explains. A change of culture and perspective is needed.

St. “Nervous stimulants can be seen as a tool,” says Arnaud. “Just as a surgeon can use a knife to remove a tumor, so can an individual with malice use a knife to operate.” As society considers how to regulate use, “we need to think about drugs in a similar way” – whether we are using these tools to cure illness or simply to party.

While Biwer and his team have some strong ideas about how Wari is using these drugs as a social tool, we may never know the exact details. Maybe they just want to have a good night.

“We have to accept that ancient people had a lot of fun and enjoyed exploring the depths of the soul or what is considered other reality,” says Marcus.

That might mean knocking down the drink with a drop of the hallucinogen. The ancient Wari empire used to mix the hallucinogens on the Vilca tree with beer for parties


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