Scientists from the British Museum and the University of York came across some traces of opiates which were found preserved inside a vessel thought to be from the Late Bronze Age. This type of vessel is known as a ‘base-ring juglet’ and it was thought for a long time that they were linked with opium use.
This supposition was drawn due to the fact that, when they are inverted, these vessels look like the seed head of the poppy plant. Another known historical fact is that they were objects of an intense trade from 1650 to 1350 BC in the eastern Mediterranean region. A range of analytical and observational techniques were used by scientists in order to properly study a certain juglet which could be found displayed in the British Museum.
This one was sealed, this process allowing its contents to remain preserved. Scientists rejoiced at this notion because this meant that they were presented the rare opportunity to investigate which of its components might have survived. The initial supposition made by the researchers from the British Museum was that the residue found with the juglet had mostly a plant oil composition but it also gave signs of the presence of opium alkaloids.
These substances are organic compounds which are linked with the opium poppy. Perhaps you already knew this, but they can cause some serious psychological effects on the human mind. In order to make sure that these alkaloids were really there and that the initial supposition regarding the presence of opiates in the oil-based residue of the vessel, scientists had to resort to a fresh analytical technique.
Dr. Rachel Smith developed this method as part of her PhD at the University of York while using instruments from the University’s Center of Excellence in Mass Spectrometry.