Veget Hist Archaeobot (2018) 27:627–634
Cannabis utilization and diﬀusion patterns in prehistoric Europe:
a critical analysis of archaeological evidence
John M. McPartland
· William Hegman
Received: 13 April 2017 / Accepted: 23 October 2017 / Published online: 10 November 2017
© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017
hemp usage. One Copper Age site in southeastern Europe
shows robust evidence (from the Gumelniţa-Varna culture).
More robust evidence appears during the Bronze Age in
southeastern Europe (Yamnaya and Catacomb cultures).
An Iron Age steppe culture, the Scythians, likely introduced
hemp cultivation to Celtic, Slavic and Finno-Ugric cultures.
The results correlate with a recent palynology study of fossil
pollen in Europe. We discuss possible autochthonous domes-
tication of Cannabis in Europe.
Keywords Cannabis sativa · Hemp · Catacomb culture ·
Gumelniţa culture · Yamnaya culture · Scythians
Debates swirl around hemp, Cannabis sativa L., regarding
its taxonomic status, centre of origin and history of domes-
tication. Most taxonomists recognize one species, with two
subspecies. Others elevate the segregates to the rank of spe-
cies—C. sativa L. and C. indica Lam., and sometimes add
Cannabis ruderalis Jan. The centre of origin of the genus is
considered Central Asia, although some scholars oﬀer East
Asia or Europe. Cannabis was utilized for three commodi-
ties—bast ﬁbre (for cordage and textiles), seed (food, seed
oil), and ﬂowering tops (medicinal and psychoactive drugs).
Speculations regarding the domestication and diﬀusion pat-
terns of C. sativa date back to Ibn Wahshīyah in
From his viewpoint in present-day Iraq, šāhdānaj came from
India and perhaps China (Hämeen-Anttila 2006).
New discoveries aﬃrm the antiquity of Cannabis use in
East Asia. Cannabis seeds recovered from a site associated
with the Jōmon culture in Japan date to 8000 cal
et al. 2009). In northern China, Zhou et al. (2011) recov-
ered seeds at a site associated with the Yǎngsháo culture
Abstract Archaeological evidence of Cannabis sativa is
comprised of textiles, cordage, ﬁbre and seeds, or pottery
impressions of those materials, as well as pseudoliths and
phytoliths (pollen is not addressed here). Previous summa-
ries of this evidence connect hemp with Bronze and Iron
Age cultures in Europe. This study improves upon earlier
summaries by: (1) accessing a larger database; (2) relying
on original studies instead of secondary sources; (3) strat-
ifying evidence by its relative robustness or validity. We
coupled digital text-searching engines with internet archives
of machine-readable texts, augmented by citation tracking
of retrieved articles. The database was large, so we limited
retrieval to studies that predated 27
Europe, and pre-
400 for eastern Europe. Validity of evi-
dence was scaled, from less robust (e.g., pottery impressions
of ﬁbre) to more robust (e.g. microscopic analysis of seeds).
Archaeological sites were mapped using ArcGIS 10.3. The
search retrieved 136 studies, a yield four-fold greater than
previous summaries when parsed to our geographic/time
constraints. Only 12.5% of studies came from secondary
literature. No robust evidence supports claims of Neolithic
Communicated by F. Bittmann.
Electronic supplementary material The online version of this
article (doi:10.1007/s00334-017-0646-7) contains supplementary
material, which is available to authorized users.
* John M. McPartland
University of Vermont, Burlington, VT, USA
GW Pharmaceuticals, Sovereign House, Histon,
Cambridge CB24 9BZ, UK
Department of Geography, Middlebury College, Middlebury,
VT 05753, USA