This Ancient Peruvian Empire Put Hallucinogenics in Beer For Political Reasons

The ancient Wari empire in Peru may have used hallucinogenic beer to garner support in new territories.

The remains of a large feast, found at the Wari outpost from the 9th century AD, strongly point to the seeds of a psychoactive plant called the fork (Anadenanthera colubrina) were once mixed with chicha, a beer made from the fruit of the Peruvian pepperSchinus molle) create a pretty … special potion.

The drink would likely cause a mild, psychedelic condition among the guests, which archaeologists suspect included ordinary people from the region.

Such an egalitarian distribution of hallucinogens was probably not the case in the older pre-Columbian periods, with the elite clinging to psychoactive substances as a means of identification with more spiritual authority.

By the ‘Late Horizon’ era of the Wari Empire, psychotropic substances were no longer used to identify the political elite. This means that at some point hallucinogens crossed a significant class division.

The authors of this new study speculate on a possible reason: by combining hallucinogens with alcohol, Wari leaders may have been trying to win over their new subjects at the Quilcacamp site.

The fork seed found here, in southern Peru, was a valuable resource during the Wari period, found on trees that grew 400 kilometers (250 miles) away, deep in the mountains. As such, this seed was mostly available to political or religious leaders, who had the means to order expeditions for the harvest.

Researchers point out that as the Wari empire expanded, their architecture increasingly included feast spaces that would emphasize the hospitality of the hosts.

While it turned out to be a strong beer made from peppercorns (also known as the fruit of the molle) on the menu, there was only speculation about adding a fork. By mapping the distribution of botanical specimens of molle and fork, the team was able to build a stronger argument for the use of fork across traditional social boundaries.

Sharing a psychedelic substance would be a calculated decision on their part. Spiritual and communal feelings evoked by drinking could be used to spread a new religious order or to create a sense of cohesion.

“The experience, however, could not be reciprocated by the guests, who did not have access to imported fork seeds and knowledge of how the drink is prepared,” the authors write.

Thus, the seeds of the fork could be a powerful tool of persuasion, securing the influence of the Wari empire as it spread to new lands.

Fork seeds from Quilcacamp. (M. Biwer)

Instead of grinding seeds and snorting (a preferred method of swallowing for Wari elites), archaeologists think ordinary people were offered seeds in chicha, which is claimed to contain compounds that could potentiate psychotropic effects.

Some beer cans elsewhere in Wari in Peru are actually illustrated with fork pods, suggesting that this was a common practice elsewhere in the empire.

Later, when the Inca Empire arrived on the scene around 1450, the fork seed seems to have fallen out of use as a political tool, although smoking continued in the region for millennia. But the beer stayed.

Archaeological evidence suggests that Inca leaders held feasts with lots of chic to provide a sense of joy in the community. Perhaps they went for a different strategy from the Wari empire, which began to decline around 800 AD.

No matter how hard you try, it seems that no amount of fork seeds can save civilization.

The study was published in Antique.

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