News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Gents: I thought you might find the following interesting in some way...

Darryl posed the following question to me:

>>another thing: what's your evidence for a) opium cultivation and/or b) opium use 3000 years ago? i am very dubious. tea was not introduced until the period of disunion, some 1600 years ago. it's a tantalizing notion, but it sounds like bullshit. we don't know what half the plants are in the book of songs, 2600 years ago. all we know is it's a plant, because of the grass radical.<<>

Other opinions vary. Opium Regimes: China, Britain and Japan, 1839-1952 states, "Opium was not native to China. Textual evidence of opium in a Chinese pharmacopoeic manual of the eighth century suggests that Muslim traders were already carrying opium from West to East Asia."
"A.D. 400: Opium thebaicum, from the Egyptian fields at Thebes, is first introduced to China by Arab traders."
"Fossil remains of poppy-seed cake and poppy-pods have been found in Neolithic Swiss lake-dwellings dating from over 4,000 years ago. Poppy images appear in Egyptian pictography and Roman sculpture. Representations of the Greek and Roman gods of sleep, Hypnos and Somnos, show them wearing or carrying poppies. Throughout Egyptian civilisation, priest-physicians promoted the household use of opium preparations. Such remedies were called "thebacium" after the highly potent poppies grown near the capital city of Thebes. Egyptian pharaohs were entombed with opium artefacts by their side. Opium could also readily be bought on the street-markets of Rome. By the eighth century AD, opium use had spread to Arabia, India and China. The Arabs both used opium and organised its trade. For the Prophet had prohibited the use of alcohol, not hashish or opiates."

My personal opinion (which is entirely different from claiming that 'opium was in China 3000 years', which implies I have sources to back the claim up) is that future research and archaelogy and so forth will determine that opium was indeed in China prior to the birth of Christ. How long prior I dare not speculate. However, archaelogy keeps pushing back in time the first arrival of civilization in its sundry forms. For example, I believe it's been demonstrated conclusively now that American Indians and Clovis Culture were predated by the arrival of what appear to be Polynesians. The skulls of these early birds keep turning up in both North and South America. Cannibalism in American Indians has now been demonstrated not just by the inference of midden heaps with human bones dismembered in a manner consistent with cannibalism but because Anastasi coprolites (fossil turds) have been analyzed and found to contain human muscle protein. A lot of these common-sense speculations have come to be verified.

I see little reason to expect that the same will not be the case for pushing back the dates for significant trade taking place between East and West. And part of that trade I expect will prove to be opium, given it's great popularity in early Europe and the Levant.

It's useful to recall that technology was so advanced in some quarters that the Austronesians were ocean-trekking as of at least 40,000 years ago. The Sumerians I believe claim that they were taught writing by an ocean-going people, so who knows how far back writing dates? With the end of the Ice Age, the relics of the most advanced riverine or delta cultures around the world (where one expects high civilization to appear) were plunged far underwater. Who knows how advanced they were? Iraq had towns (with walls, if memory serves) as far back as 11,000
years ago. Hard for me to imagine that regional trade wasn't already on the go and that folks in the ancient Fertile Crescent and elsewhere in Europe weren't already indulging in opiates. But how far back into pre-B.C. times opium use in China goes, I can't say.

No comments:

Post a Comment