Ancient Egyptian ritual vase found to be laced with hallucinogenic components

The vase is part of the collection at the Tampa Museum of Art in Florida.
Sejal Sharma
The Bes-vase
The Bes-vase

Tanasi et al 

A bunch of researchers, after analyzing an Egyptian ritual vase, have found traces of hallucinogenic plants inside of it.

The Egyptian vase has a face resembling that of the deity Bes, who along with her female counterpart Beset were worshiped as a protector of households, of mothers, children, and childbirth. Images of Bes were a common feature in Egyptian homes in the second century BCE, also known as the Ptolemaic period. 

The vase is part of the collection at the Tampa Museum of Art in Florida, U.S. The vessel was brought to the museum in 1984 along with 45 more antiquities. 

The researchers published their findings on Research Square. After analyzing the organic composition of the residual liquid concoction in the Bes-vase, their findings revealed a mixture of dietary supplements used for medicinal and psychotropic purposes. 

The concoction was used in an unattested ritual

The researchers inferred that there’s a possibility that this Bes-vase was used for some sort of ritual of reenactment of what happened in a significant event in Egyptian myth. The significant event they speak of is the Myth of the Solar Eye. 

The Myth of the Solar Eye, wherein Bes served the goddess Hathor an alcoholic drink spiked with a plant-based drug to make her fall into a deep sleep and forget about exacting vengeance, according to Ars Technica.

“With respect to findings related with plant-based substances, the Peganum harmala L., belonging to the Nitrariaceae family, and commonly known as harmel or Syrian rue, stands out. It is a medicinal and psychoactive plant that is native to the Mediterranean basin, Near East, since pre-Islamic times 31, and part of Asia 32,” said the study.

The plant that the researchers mention, produces a seed which contains high quantities of alkaloids harmine and harmaline, which induce dream-like visions.

 “Alkaloids are the most significant compounds identified in the analysis,” said the study. Alkaloids have diverse and important physiological effects on humans and other animals. Well-known alkaloids include morphine, strychnine, quinine, ephedrine, and nicotine.

The researchers are of the view that in regard to their findings, it is now critical to ascertain if the evidence here discussed was a rare event or a widespread practice in the Ptolemaic period.

Study abstract:

This study presents a comprehensive multimodal analytical study of an Egyptian ritual Bes-vase, of the 2nd century BCE employing cutting-edge proteomics, metabolomics, genetics techniques, and synchrotron radiation-based Fourier Transformed Infrared microSpectroscopy (SR µ-FTIR) to characterize organic residues of its content. We successfully identified the presence of various nutraceutical, psychotropic, medicinal, and biological substances, shedding light on the diverse components of a liquid concoction used for ritual practices in Ptolemaic Egypt. Using LC-MS/MS with a new methodological approach, we identified key proteins and metabolites, enabling the identification of botanical sources, confirmed by genetic sequences. Our analyses revealed traces of Peganum harmala, Nimphaea nouchali var. caerulea, and a plant of the Cleome genus, all of which are traditionally proven to have psychotropic and medicinal properties. Additionally, the identification of human fluids suggests their direct involvement in these rituals. Furthermore, metabolomics and SR μ-FTIR analyses also revealed the presence of fermented fruit-based liquid and other ingredients such as honey or royal jelly. The identification of specific chemical compounds, such as alkaloids and flavonoids, provides insight into the psychoactive and therapeutic uses of these in ancient ritual practices. This multidisciplinary study highlights the complexity of ancient cultures and their interactions with psychoactive, medicinal, and nutraceutical substances. These findings contribute to our understanding of ancient belief systems, cultural practices, and the utilization of natural resources, ultimately enhancing our knowledge of past societies and their connection to the natural world.

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