By Ryan Lee
The hemp plant had been an ancient and diverse crop that existed for thousands of years which pave the gateway in supporting many generations, civilizations, knowledge and lifestyle. From it's unique uses of creating over 10,000 products, we wondered where it started in history and what records say.
In this week’s episode of hemp chronicles, we explore where records say hemp had started in ancient history. These are based on archaeological records throughout their discoveries over the centuries.
So where did it began?
Well... Hemp was thought to be started in Central Asia (Kazakistan, Pakistan, Nepal, the Kashmir region of India and the Tibetan region of China).
Two more regions in the Mesopotamian Valley between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (present-day Iraq) and the Huang He (Yellow River) valley in China.
Hemp spread from its native habitat toward the west in two directions.
- One route led through the Russian lowland plains to Scandinavia, Poland, Germany, and the Baltic region. This distribution included the Carpathian Mountains and the Danube River delta which is where the northern and central Russian geographical race of hemp originated.
- The other route led through Asia Minor to the Mediterranean countries and into the provinces of the Roman Empire (Illyria, Gallia, and Hispania). From there, the southern Mediterranean ecological group originated which encompassed southern Russia, Romania, Hungary, Serbia, Italy, and Spain. Hemp was introduced by the Slavs in central and northern Europe.
Estimated routes where hemp had been used.
In the end, archaeologists all agree that hemp was one of the first known plant species to be purposely cultivated and the only one cultivated to be dioecious (having separate male and female plants).
The First Possible Location
China had been the first answer for where hemp began, many archaeologists believed most remaining usage of hemp had originated from Ancient China based on excavations in several sites which offered vital pieces of evidence.
The Earliest artifacts of hemp had been discovered in a Neolithic site at Yuan-Shan (Modern day Taiwan) which dates the site as 12,000 years old.
It includes coarse, sandy pottery with hemp cordage marks covering the surface; along with that is an incised, rod-shaped stone beater which suggested a tool to pound hemp into a cord.
Additional evidence of early hemp had been discovered in various sites in ancient China, some discoveries are:
- The Long Shan culture (4000 BC) left samples of hemp cloth, indicting the cultivation of hemp for fibres.
- The agricultural tribes of the Liang Zhu culture (3300 BC-2300 BC) left evidence of consuming hemp in two pottery vessels on the floor of a house in Lin-chia during the Zhejiang province of Neolithic China period.
- Woven textile impression found on a Neolithic site (6000 BC - 4000 BC) in Henan Provinces in Eastern Neolithic China had several textile pieces made of hemp and silk.
- Remnants of hemp had been discovered at sites of the Ch'i-chia, a culture of advanced farmers who also raised livestock in eastern Kansu.
- The excavation at Linjia in Dong Xiang, Jiangxi province; dated between 2900 BC - 2700 BC unearthed large quantities of broom corn millet and hemp seeds from storage pits.
Type of physical Evidence and Estimated Age
The Second Possible Location
Japan was mentioned where hemp began. During the Jomon period (14,000 to 300 BC), archaeologists suggest evidence where hemp seeds are used as a food or oil source during this period.
These locations are the discovery of:
- Hemp achenes remain discovered near Oki Islands at approximately 8000 BC
- Hemp seeds uncovered on the island of Kyushu, it suggested the passage of trade between China and Japan. The artefact is too small to put an accurate date.
The term “Jomon” means “pattern of ropes” which was possible that hemp cords were used to decorate Jomon pottery earlier. These were hunting and collecting people who lived in a civilised, comfortable existence and used hemp for waving clothing and basket making.
The Third Possible Location
Some say that the first hemp weaved fabric which was revealed to be 9000 years old could be a possible location for where hemp started. This was discovered in excavations of the settlement of Çatalhöyük in the central Anatolian province of Konya (modern day Turkey). It was discovered in the ground of a burned house wrapped around a baby skeleton.
They say “The fire warmed up the ground and platforms of the building and created a kiln drying effect. Therefore the pieces and this piece of cloth underground have been so far protected. Examinations in the laboratory show that this piece of cloth is linen weaved with hemp. This is a first in the world and one of the best preserved examples."
When considering this question whether China, Japan, Turkey or other countries was the first origin of hemp, it is often difficult to distinguish the current records myths and unclear records as one side would have an different conclusion to it.
Based on records, it's best to say China would have been the first origin of hemp however, with new discoveries and evidence; this could piece together the overall timeline of hemp which gave us how hemp had integrated in different cultures.