Consumption of psychoactive plants confirmed in hair of trophy heads, mummies from ancient Peru, study finds

Thousands of years ago, a child in Peru was sacrificed as part of an ancient ritual, his head severed at the neck and made into something of a trophy. A new analysis of a single hair plucked from the mummy’s skull reveals that the child consumed a psychoactive cactus before the execution, as part of the ceremony.

The child’s preserved head was one of 22 human remains associated with ancient Nazca society examined in a new study; all of these individuals lived during the pre-Hispanic era (3500 BC to 476 AD) and were buried near the southern coast of Peru, where they were excavated during the Nazca Project, a long-running archaeological program that began in 1982. While scientists are uncertain of the sex and age of the child victim at the time of death, they reported that the child had ingested San Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi), a thorny plant taken for its “strong hallucinogenic properties” and used by indigenous civilizations of the Americas in traditional medicines and in rituals.

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