The Vikings used cannabis

This was the breaking news of the summer of 2019. The evidence was dug out of a bog near the Viking settlement in Newfoundland. Still, nobody can tell for sure if the Vikings smoked pot during their stay in North America. But the famous Oseberg ship might give us a hint.

The excavation team at Oseberg 1904

The Oseberg ship is the best-preserved Viking ship in the world, and a kind of Norway’s grave of Tut, with many burial gifts that can tell us a lot about the Vikings. Preserved by the clay in the grave mound, the archaeologist found buckets with apples where the red colour was still intact. It was even blueberry, garden cress and uncooked bread among the food for the two women who were buried in the ship, on their final journey to the afterlife.

It is uncertain who these two women were, but their skeletons reveal that the oldest one struggled with cancer. She was around 80 years old when she died, and she was buried with cannabis seeds in her pocket. In an interview with the Norwegian TV channel, NRK, the associate professor at the Museum of Cultural History, Ellen Marie Næss, said this:
“She had a lot of pain due to illness and the cannabis was probably pain-relieving for her. At the same time, if she was a religious leader then she needed to get in touch with the gods and the cannabis made sure she got good contact, I think.”
And another explanation is to make clothes and ropes. There are three different types of cannabis — Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis. So far, the archaeologists have not managed to determine which of them these seeds fit with. But one thing is sure however, the cannabis from the Oseberg burial is not the only one. In Norway, there are at least four other known examples, mostly from the Viking era.

On the left, the 1954 excavation of the bog near Sosteli farm. On the right, the ruins of Sostli farm

At Sosteli, an old farmstead from the Iron age who was excavated by archaeologists in 1954, the cannabis seeds were also found in a bog — which bears resemblances with the finding site in Newfoundland. And this kind of location has its explanation with the process of making textiles and ropes, where the harvested cannabis plants were laid in water.

A model of the Viking settlement in Newfoundland

The Viking ships needed ropes, and the Viking settlement in Newfoundland is believed to have been used as a shipyard, which gives sense to the need for cannabis. But, however, this does not exclude the possibility of other usages as well, such as medicine or uses that are forbidden in many countries today.

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