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Proof of the intentional use of black henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) within the Roman Netherlands | Antiquity

Proof of the intentional use of black henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) within the Roman Netherlands | Antiquity

2024-02-10 23:44:54


Black henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) is a particularly toxic plant species that will also be used as a medicinal or psychoactive drug. It’s a ruderal species, preferring dry, nutrient-rich pure and anthropogenic habitats on disturbed soils (Weeda et al. Reference Weeda, Westra, Westra and Westra1988: 187). Macrofossils of black henbane are present in quite a few archaeological options in north-western Europe from the Neolithic onwards (e.g. Otte & Mattonet Reference Otte, Mattonet and Brandes2001; Herbig Reference Herbig, Stobbe and Tegtmeier2012; RADAR, 2018 information). As a result of prevalence of black henbane as a weed in and round settlements, it’s notoriously tough to interpret the importance of those finds, though some archaeological proof does counsel that its psychoactive properties have been understood and exploited by individuals (e.g. Knörzer Reference Knörzer1965; Penz et al. Reference Pentz, Baastrup, Karg and Mannering2009; Herbig Reference Herbig, Stobbe and Tegtmeier2012).

The latest (2017) discovery of a sheep/goat bone that had been hollowed out, sealed on one aspect by a plug of a black materials and full of a whole lot of black henbane seeds supplies a possibility to realize new perception into the historic use of this species. Bioarchaeological evaluation of the bone, which was discovered on the Roman rural web site of Houten-Castellum within the Netherlands, permits us to evaluate the completely different interpretations of black henbane inside this area and the broader Empire. On this article, we discover Roman-period finds of black henbane from the Netherlands and descriptions of this species in Classical texts, its prevalence and potential makes use of. We think about the bone container from Houten-Castellum, its context and the outcomes of its evaluation inside the broader argument for the intentional use of black henbane previously.

Black henbane: weed, drug or medicinal plant?

Black henbane is indigenous to Europe and Asia and belongs to the Solanaceae household—the nightshades. These days the species is scarce within the Netherlands, however it could be encountered in ruderal habitats—areas the place the soil is disturbed and vitamins are added by the motion of people, animals, water or erosion (Weeda & Schaminée Reference Weeda, Schaminée, Schaminée, Weeda and Westhoff1998: 247–54). The pure habitats of this plant species are, for instance, river areas and coastal zones the place it’s primarily discovered on dry, calcareous and really nutrient-rich sand and clay soils (Weeda et al. Reference Weeda, Westra, Westra and Westra1988: 187). Black henbane additionally thrives in settlement areas, particularly on dunghills and in nutrient-rich areas in vegetable gardens.

The seeds of black henbane are usually present in archaeological contexts in north-western Europe. The oldest finds are related to the Bandkeramik tradition (c. 5500–4500 BC) (Knörzer Reference Knörzer and Beyer1998; Herbig Reference Herbig, Stobbe and Tegtmeier2012; Tegel et al. Reference Tegel, Elburg, Hakelberg, Stäuble and Büntgen2012). It’s potential that these first farmers introduced this plant species with them, both deliberately or unintentionally. Black henbane is a ‘weed of cultivation’, it grows within the beneficial circumstances of cultivated land and its seeds could also be harvested and sown unintentionally, successfully migrating with farming communities. This makes it significantly tough to show intentional use of the plant when it’s discovered at archaeological websites; seeds could have by accident been harvested and saved or entered archaeological options when crops grew in settlements. Herbig (Reference Herbig, Stobbe and Tegtmeier2012) means that black henbane was already utilized by individuals within the Bandkeramik tradition for its psychoactive properties. Proof for this can be seen within the giant numbers of black henbane seeds present in wells in Sachsen, Germany (on the archaeological websites of Schkeuditz-Altscherbitz, Brodau, Dresden-Cotta, Eythra and Leipzig-Plaußig), and the co-occurrence of different utilitarian plant species, for instance greens, artisanal and medicinal crops (Herbig Reference Herbig, Stobbe and Tegtmeier2012: 153), in these wells.

Within the Netherlands, black henbane has been discovered sporadically from the Neolithic onwards and is discovered at many Roman websites (see on-line supplementary materials (OSM) Tables S1 & S2 for additional particulars and references). Most of those websites are positioned within the Dutch river space and the Meuse valley, areas through which the atmosphere displays the optimum rising circumstances for the species these days. Usually, one to a number of dozen seeds are discovered as a part of an assemblage of species that may in any other case be anticipated in a settlement location. Often, particular person or a small variety of charred black henbane seeds are present in samples containing cereals and arable weeds. In these circumstances, it’s potential that black henbane grew on the sting of arable fields and thus made its manner into charred threshing waste.

To attempt to distinguish between intentional use of black henbane as a medicinal or psychoactive drug and its pure prevalence as a ruderal, three approaches are taken. First, we have a look at the archaeological contexts through which henbane is discovered. Finds from inside containers, in hospital contexts or graves, particularly if the variety of seeds is giant, are thought-about indicative of intentional use by people. Second, we think about different artefacts inside these contexts; restoration of black henbane along with ‘distinctive finds’, for instance in options with abandonment choices, can also counsel intentional human use. Third, following Herbig (Reference Herbig, Stobbe and Tegtmeier2012), we catalogue the presence of cultivated plant species or helpful wild plant species inside the similar contexts as black henbane. Frequent co-occurrence of species could point out intentional use by people.

Apart from an inflorescence—the entire flower head, together with stems, stalks and seed pods—discovered at Houten-Castellum (see under), all finds of black henbane from the Roman Netherlands are waterlogged or charred seeds. The issue of the third strategy is that many wild plant species with medicinal, symbolic or artisanal makes use of may have been frequent in areas surrounding settlements. Due to this fact, we examine the finds of black henbane with different helpful plant species which are comparatively unusual in archaeobotanical assemblages within the Netherlands: lethal nightshade (Atropa bella-donna, medicinal/psychoactive), black horehound (Ballota nigra, medicinal), frequent St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum, medicinal), motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca, medicinal), white horehound (Marrubium vulgare, medicinal), catmint (Nepeta cataria, medicinal), dyer’s rocket (Reseda luteola, artisanal), wild mignonette (Reseda lutea, medicinal) and vervain (Verbena officinalis, medicinal, symbolic). Whereas black horehound, frequent St John’s wort, dyer’s rocket and vervain grew or have been grown within the Netherlands previous to the Roman interval, there isn’t a proof for white horehound and catmint. Lethal nightshade, motherwort and wild mignonette appear to be Roman introductions that subsequently survived independently (see OSM2 & OSM3). We additionally checked out herbs that have been launched to the Netherlands within the Roman interval: dill (Anethum graveolens), coriander (Coriandrum sativum) and rue (Ruta graveolens). Each dill and coriander are interpreted as medicinal crops within the Roman hospital at Neuss (Knörzer Reference Knörzer1965) however have been additionally used within the Roman kitchen. Rue can be talked about as a kitchen herb and medicinal plant in classical texts (Apicius for instance 3.9[87], 8.8[386], 9.1[402]; Vehling Reference Vehling1977; Dioscorides, De Materia Medica 5.42; Osbaldeston & Wooden Reference Osbaldeston and Wood2000; Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia 24.90; Jones & Andrews Reference Jones and Andrews1956). After their introduction, these species have been in all probability cultivated in vegetable gardens. One other cultivated species which is named a meals plant and medication is the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) (Bakels & Kuijper Reference Bakels, Kuijper, Brinkkemper, Deeben, van Doesburg, Hallewas, Theunissen and Verlinde2006: 12).

That means of black henbane as a medicinal plant

The Greco-Roman doctor Dioscorides names three kinds of henbane: white, yellow and black, of which the latter two trigger delirium and sleep (De Materia Medica 4.69; Osbaldeston & Wooden Reference Osbaldeston and Wood2000). The black kind in all probability represents black henbane and the white and yellow may relate to white henbane (Hyoscyamus albus). In accordance with Dioscorides, white henbane is finest for cures and the black ought to be prevented on account of its stronger results. Henbane seeds may be made right into a juice for curing all types of ache, mucus and problems of the womb, whereas the leaves may be utilized to the physique to appease ache or be utilized in a decoction to remedy fever. However when boiled like greens, the leaves may cause heavy disturbance of the senses (De Materia Medica 4.69).

The Roman author Pliny the Elder names 4 sorts of henbane in his Naturalis Historia (25.17; Jones & Andrews Reference Jones and Andrews1956). Amongst these, one is recognized as having black seeds and purple flowers in distinction to the extra frequent white variety. Pliny warns that every one varieties trigger madness and giddiness however a white selection which grows by the ocean is most used ‘by medical males’. Juice extracted from the stem and leaves of the plant can be utilized to treatment chest complaints akin to coughs—although the fume of burning henbane can also assist joint illnesses, gout and tendonitis (Naturalis Historia 22.58, 26.15, 26.64–66; Jones Reference Jones1951; Jones & Andrews Reference Jones and Andrews1956). Chewing henbane root with vinegar is recommended as a treatment for toothache, whereas the basis in an ointment alleviates pains of the womb (Naturalis Historia 25, 105, 26.90). A honey-wine with asses’ milk and the seeds of anise and henbane helps in opposition to flatulence and shortness of breath (Naturalis Historia 20.73) and juice obtained from the seeds could also be used as an emollient (Naturalis Historia 23.49) or poured within the ears to remedy earache (Naturalis Historia 25.103), however Pliny warns this deranges the mind. In truth, he finds the drug harmful in any kind. He notes that consuming wine with 4 or extra leaves was believed to carry down fever, however paradoxically there have been additionally cures for many who had taken this drink. Thus, Pliny concludes that henbane was each a poison and a treatment (Naturalis Historia 25.17).

In Plutarch’s works, henbane is talked about as a drug or poison by the way. In Parallel Lives it’s famous as one of many toxic crops cultivated and studied by the Greek king Attalus III (Lives, Vol. IX. 20.2; Perrin Reference Perrin1920). An extract from Moralia describes the consequences of henbane:

that disturbance which it raised in those who drink it isn’t so correctly referred to as drunkenness as alienation of thoughts or insanity, akin to hyoscyamus and a thousand different issues that set males beside themselves often produce (Questiones convivales III.II.2; Goodwin Reference Goodwin1878 vol. 3: 267).

In medieval texts, magical or ritual properties are ascribed to black henbane alongside its medicinal perform. Of their compendium of formality crops in Europe, De Cleene and Lejeune describe (post-)medieval sources through which the plant is used to evoke rain, summon demons and appeal to recreation. It is usually famous as an ingredient in witches’ potions due to its psychoactive and hallucinogenic properties (De Cleene & Lejeune Reference De Cleene and Lejeune2000: 214–15).

It may be concluded subsequently that henbane was used as a drugs, and that the harmful unwanted effects of its use have been identified, within the Roman and Greek worlds. Though we can’t be sure which varieties have been recognised, Pliny cautions that every one varieties produce related results. As black henbane is the one species that grows in north-west Europe, we surmise that this was the first species used on this area.

Context and supplies

The archaeological web site of Houten-Castellum reveals the stays of a rural settlement within the central Netherlands (Figure 1), which was inhabited from the Early Iron Age (sixth century BC) to the Roman interval with a hiatus within the first century BC (van Renswoude & Habermehl Reference van Renswoude, Habermehl, Sinke, van Renswoude and Habermehl2017). The location consists of a residual channel containing settlement refuse and intentional deposits. The Iron Age constructions include pits, wood fences and bridges and a ritual enclosure. From the Early Roman interval, stays of 1 or two byrehouses per part are current on the western financial institution of the channel however the web site appears to have been deserted by the tip of the second century AD (van Renswoude Reference Habermehl, van Renswoude and Habermehl2017: 102–38). The settlement was located in a dynamic, moist panorama, through which the structure of the channel and gulley techniques modified infrequently.

The location is exclusive each due to the lengthy interval of occupation and the big amount of finds—together with roughly 207 000 pottery sherds, 1400 metallic objects and 86 000 animal bone fragments (Groot & van Haasteren Reference Groot, van Haasteren, van Renswoude and Habermehl2017). A lot of the finds come from layers inside the residual channel, which may typically be dated precisely. As a result of waterlogged circumstances, the preservation of natural materials is great. Houten-Castellum is prone to have been a self-sufficient agrarian neighborhood, in all probability producing a surplus of meals within the Roman interval. From the earliest part of the Roman interval, the inhabitants have been capable of faucet into army and civilian commerce networks, which introduced pottery, brooches and stone from areas together with the Rhineland, the northern and western Netherlands, England, the Eifel and the Belgian Ardennes (Boreel Reference Boreel, van Renswoude and Habermehl2017; van Renswoude Reference Habermehl, van Renswoude and Habermehl2017).

Seeds of black henbane have been current in botanical samples from two pits and one waterhole from the Center Iron Age in Houten-Castellum and in a pit and a pot discovered within the residual channel from the Roman interval (Kooistra Reference Kooistra, van Renswoude and Habermehl2017: 753). Regardless of its presence, these samples give no clear indications for human use or manipulation of the plant. Two different finds of black henbane do, nevertheless, counsel intentional use.

Inside an enclosure ditch, which bordered the yard of two subsequent or simultaneous Roman byrehouses, a basket or fish lure was positioned the wrong way up along with 4 full handmade cooking pots and an inflorescence of black henbane (see Figures 2, 3 & 4; Habermehl Reference Habermehl, van Renswoude and Habermehl2017: 407; van Renswoude et al. Reference van Renswoude and Habermehl2017: 953–6; Kooistra Reference Kooistra, van Renswoude and Habermehl2017: 755–9). This discover, which was dated to AD 90–110 via ceramic typology, is interpreted as an abandonment providing.

Determine 2. Excavation {photograph} of a deposit inside the enclosure ditch containing a basket, pots and black henbane (decrease arrow) (reproduced from van Renswoude et al. Reference van Renswoude and Habermehl2017: fig. 20.12).

Determine 4. Places of the finds of black henbane inside the Roman web site of Houten-Castellum, AD 40–120. A) greater financial institution; B) decrease financial institution; C) older gulley; D) pits part 7; E) pits part 8; F) ditches part 7; G) ditches part 8 (after van Renswoude Reference Habermehl, van Renswoude and Habermehl2017: fig. 6.21).

Throughout the evaluation of faunal stays from the positioning, the diaphysis of a sheep or goat femur was discovered with a plug of black materials inserted into one finish. When this plug was eliminated, the shaft was discovered to comprise a lot of seeds that have been recognized as black henbane. It was not clear straightaway whether or not the plug was an intentional option to shut the cylinder and/or whether or not the cylinder had been labored. We subsequently had the plug analysed by fuel chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), infrared spectrometry and electron microscopy.

Outcomes of analyses and interpretation of black henbane finds

The bone object containing black henbane seeds

The bone cylinder is the left femoral diaphysis of a sheep or goat. Below magnification, it’s clear that the bone fragment (72 × 16mm) was labored at each ends. Sprucing noticed on the center part could have occurred throughout dealing with of the bone (Groot & van Haasteren Reference Groot, van Haasteren, van Renswoude and Habermehl2017: 712–13). The distal finish of the femur was closed by a plug of a black materials that was inconsistent with soil (see under). Traces of engaged on the bone cylinder and the truth that it was deliberately closed at one finish point out deliberate use of the bone as an object. The metaphysis of the femur, the place the bone widens to kind the knee joint, would have supplied a pure closure to the shaft, however the inside bone construction may be very porous right here. As an alternative, this space was hollowed out and the plug was inserted into the bone. There isn’t any proof that the bone cylinder was closed on the different finish however it’s potential {that a} perishable materials akin to leather-based or textile was used. The hole chamber contained in the bone is roughly 59mm lengthy with a diameter of 9mm, permitting a tough estimation for quantity of three.75cm3.

When the bone was cleaned throughout zooarchaeological evaluation, the plug fell out and it was found that the bone contained a lot of waterlogged plant seeds (Figure 5). Roughly two-thirds of the seeds have been misplaced within the course of, however the remaining pattern allowed a botanical identification as black henbane. Throughout the archaeobotanical evaluation, 382 seeds have been counted with a quantity of roughly 0.35cm3. No different plant stays have been discovered within the bone. The cylinder in all probability initially contained just a little over 1000 seeds. If fully crammed, it could have contained as many as 4000 seeds.

Excavation data point out that the bone object was present in a water pit dated to AD 70–100 primarily based on the typology of ceramics and a wire brooch included within the deposit (Figure 4; van Renswoude et al. Reference van Renswoude, van Renswoude and Habermehl2017: 1089–92). The pit additionally contained the partial skeleton of a cow (Groot & van Haasteren Reference Groot, van Haasteren, van Renswoude and Habermehl2017: 692). Larger up within the fill of the pit, three fragments of quern stone have been discovered, two of which got here from related higher and decrease halves (Boreel Reference Boreel, van Renswoude and Habermehl2017: 658). These have been discovered along with a canine’s cranium. As a result of these objects are positioned greater up within the fill of the water pit, when it was out of use, they’ve been interpreted as an abandonment providing (van Renswoude Reference Habermehl, van Renswoude and Habermehl2017: 136). Lastly, a horse seems to have been buried within the high fill of the pit in the course of the second century—primarily based on stratigraphy and ceramics. The skeleton was incomplete and butchery marks have been current on a few of the bones (Groot & van Haasteren Reference Groot, van Haasteren, van Renswoude and Habermehl2017: 692). Whereas the 2 partial skeletons with butchery marks could signify meals stays, their prevalence together with a number of uncommon finds means that they, too, have been choices.

The fabric used for the plug was recognized as tar by Dr Kubiak-Martens (BIAX Seek the advice of). To find out the species of tree, the plug was analysed by Professor Langer on the Adam Mickiewicz College in Poznan, Poland (see OSM1 for the complete report). Outcomes of GC-MS confirmed that each ends of the plug have been nearly an identical. A pattern from the flat outer a part of the plug contained the best proportion of natural materials and was additional analysed by infrared spectrometry and scanning electron microscopy with energy-dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (SEM & EDS). The presence of the diagnostic biochemical marker betulin signifies that the plug consists of birch-bark tar (Figure 6). Additionally recognized have been alkaloids together with hyoscyamine—attribute of black henbane—and fatty acids from oily plant seeds, which may additionally derive from black henbane.

Determine 6. Outcomes of fuel chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) evaluation of a pattern of the plug (higher graph). The decrease graph reveals the sign of betulin, a biochemical marker diagnostic for birch-bark tar. Please observe that the x-axis is completely different for every graph (photos reproduced from Langer 2018 (OSM1)).

Birch-bark tar has been used for the reason that Center Palaeolithic within the hafting of instruments and the restore and waterproofing of ceramics, and a latest paper corroborates its use within the Roman interval (Regert et al. Reference Regert2019). Evaluation of an ornamental black substance on bone hinges from France and Switzerland with direct inlet-mass spectrometry and GC-MS revealed that birch-bark tar was current in 49 of 52 samples. Different Roman-period cases of use are identified from Britain, Denmark and Norway (Regert et al. Reference Regert2019). Birch tar was additionally discovered on the rim of Gallo-Roman pottery from the websites of Kluizendok, Aalter and Blicquy in western Belgium, the place it was in all probability used to seal these pots (Oudemans Reference Oudemans2009). Our discover attests the usage of birch-bark tar in a Roman home context in north-western Europe.

There are two potential interpretations of the bone cylinder: a pipe or a container. The primary interpretation was recommended by Professor Langer in his report on the evaluation of the birch-bark tar plug (see OSM1). He interprets the decrease natural content material of the portion of the plug that was contained in the bone in comparison with the exterior a part of the plug, as proof that the half contained in the bone was heated to the next temperature than the half exterior. This might have occurred in considered one of 3 ways: 1) the bone cylinder was heated from the within; 2) warmth was utilized to the skin of the bone alongside the diaphysis, however not too near the distal finish and the skin of the plug; or 3) warmth was utilized to the smaller a part of the plug earlier than the bigger flat piece was hooked up (i.e. earlier than the plug was inserted into the bone).

The darker discolouration of the bone across the metaphysis may counsel the heating of the skin of the bone cylinder (Figure 5), however this will even be brought on by pure soil processes and doesn’t essentially mirror burning. In truth, many bones from waterlogged circumstances at this archaeological web site present related black marks and streaks. The seeds are waterlogged and don’t present proof of charring so are unlikely to be the stays of pipe use, except the pipe had been crammed prepared for its subsequent use earlier than deposition. Even when that have been the case, there are a number of seeds contemplating how potent the plant is meant to be. The deviating design of the bone object in comparison with different identified pipes and the truth that it has just one opening additionally argue in opposition to its use as a pipe. It’s potential that the article was not a pipe for smoking however was used to warmth the seeds gently to launch vapour that would then be inhaled, as described by Pliny (Naturalis Historia 26.15; Jones & Andrews Reference Jones and Andrews1956). Pipes of any variety are, nevertheless, extraordinarily uncommon in Europe earlier than the arrival of tobacco; we discovered just one instance, from Bronze Age Germany (Rind Reference Rind1994).

The choice interpretation is that the bone cylinder was used as a container for the black henbane seeds. It was completely closed on one aspect by the birch-bark tar plug and on the opposite aspect it could initially have been closed by some perishable materials that has both been eliminated or has not been preserved. The massive variety of waterlogged seeds would match with the interpretation of this discover as a container and its contents.

Co-occurrence of black henbane with different medicinal crops

Just a few different archaeological finds strongly counsel a medicinal or hallucinatory use of black henbane. Till the Roman interval, now we have little archaeological proof for the cultivation or medicinal or hallucinatory use of this plant (see OSM2 Desk S1a). Within the hospital of the first-century AD Roman fortress in Neuss (Novaesium), 128 charred seeds of black henbane have been present in affiliation with various different medicinal crops: fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), vervain, frequent centaury (Centaurium erythraea), frequent St John’s wort, dill and coriander (Knörzer Reference Knörzer1963, Reference Knörzer1965). This strongly means that black henbane was identified and used as a medicinal plant within the Roman Rhineland.

Black henbane seeds—in all probability in a leather-based purse—have been discovered along with a metallic ‘wand’ and a field with small animal bones within the grave of a feminine particular person buried on the ring fortress of Fyrkat in Jutland, Denmark, c. AD 980. The lady was believed to be a vølva, a seeress, who used black henbane for hallucinatory functions (Pentz et al. Reference Pentz, Baastrup, Karg and Mannering2009). Finds of black henbane from medieval hospitals are additionally identified from Scotland (Soutra Hill, Edinburgh; Moffat Reference Moffat1992) and Finland (Turku; Lempiäinen Reference Lempiäinen1992).

Examination of archaeobotanical information reveals that black henbane, the 9 potential medicinal/helpful wild plant species and the 4 cultivated kitchen herbs/medicinal species, are discovered at 83 Roman-period websites within the Netherlands (see OSM3). Black henbane is discovered at 65 of the 83 websites. The opposite species are discovered together with black henbane extra typically than they’re discovered with out it. Black henbane happens with at the least one of many different species at 42 websites. At 23 websites black henbane occurred with none of those different species.

See Also

The sample revealed by these information means that black henbane and different wild species with potential medicinal makes use of didn’t all the time develop naturally in and round human settlements. Deliberate cultivation is strengthened when species are discovered exterior their pure habitat, akin to on the Roman web site of Hoogeloon-Kerkakkers. Right here, 4 plant species that choose calcareous soils—black henbane, vervain, motherwort and black horehound—grew within the acidic to impartial sandy sediments. The latter species will not be talked about in Roman texts however later historic sources do point out its medicinal qualities (Kooistra et al. Reference Kooistra, Troostheide, van Beurden and Kubiak-Martens2013: 22–25).

The wild plant species with a potential medicinal or different use, together with black henbane, whose presence was investigated for this text, often develop in divergent habitats. It’s potential that they ended up in anthropogenic options naturally, as many different wild plant species do. Nonetheless, we can’t exclude the likelihood that there’s a connection between the species, associated to the potential medicinal use of black henbane and the 13 different species. On this case, these species could have been cultivated in vegetable gardens for his or her potential software, although for now this stays a speculation that requires additional testing.


Interpretation of archaeological finds of black henbane will not be easy as a result of the plant can develop naturally in and round settlements. The invention of a bone container full of a big amount of black henbane seeds from a Roman web site within the Netherlands is a convincing case for the intentional exploitation of this plant. Whereas the bone object might be a pipe used for smoking black henbane, the general design of the cylinder and the big amount and uncharred state of the seeds communicate in opposition to such an interpretation.

Based mostly on this and examination of the archaeobotanical report for the Roman Netherlands, we advise that finds of black henbane may be interpreted as proof for human (medicinal or hallucinogenic) use in the event that they match one of many following classes:

  1. 1. A considerable quantity of stays in a closed container, in a burial or different particular context (e.g. Houten, Fyrkat);

  2. 2. Recovered from a hospital context (e.g. Neuss, Edinburgh, Turku); or

  3. 3. Deposited along with different potential medicinal or helpful plant species.

Black henbane at Houten-Castellum matches the primary class in two methods. First, the seeds have been present in a container. Second, the context of the discover is taken into account particular due to the mix of things inside the water-pit deposit and its interpretation as an abandonment providing. This matches with different particular finds from wells within the Roman Netherlands, that are recommended to narrate to lifecycle rituals (van Haasteren & Groot Reference van Haasteren and Groot2013). A second deposit at Houten-Castellum, containing a black henbane inflorescence, can be interpreted as an abandonment providing. Whereas we can’t exclude the likelihood that the plant grew within the neighborhood of the enclosure ditch and entered the deposit via pure processes, it appears an excessive amount of of a coincidence to seek out black henbane in two contemporaneous abandonment deposits.

Identification of concentrations of black henbane seeds within the grave of a Viking-Age seeress (Penz et al. Reference Pentz, Baastrup, Karg and Mannering2009), the Roman hospital at Neuss (Knörzer Reference Knörzer1963; Reference Knörzer1965) and medieval hospitals in Scotland (Edinburgh; Moffat Reference Moffat1992) and Finland (Turku; Lempiäinen Reference Lempiäinen1992) additionally strongly point out the intentional use of this plant by people.

As such contexts are uncommon, we investigated the prevalence of black henbane together with different potential medicinal crops. Inside the Roman Netherlands, black henbane is discovered together with one to eight different species with a potential medicinal use at 42 archaeological websites. Extra analysis is required to check whether or not this mixture is unintentional or intentional.

Weak indicators of human use embrace indicators of charring and enormous concentrations of seeds. Herbig (Reference Herbig, Stobbe and Tegtmeier2012: 154) argues that charred seeds in all probability got here into contact with home fires, which strongly suggests human motion however charring may additionally happen in the course of the processing of cereal grains. In that case, the crops could have grown on the perimeters of arable fields and the seeds have been unintentionally harvested and processed. Black henbane produces giant volumes of seeds and, if crops grew naturally in or round settlements, it’s potential that a complete plant or inflorescence could sometimes have ended up in an archaeological function. Due to this fact, though the bone container demonstrates that black henbane held significance for the inhabitants of Houten-Castellum, we can’t exclude the likelihood that the inflorescence from the second abandonment deposit at Houten-Castellum ended up there by chance.

Though the main target on this article has been on black henbane, one other side of the bone container can be price contemplating. The birch-bark tar plug closing one finish of the container is the primary proof for the usage of this materials within the Netherlands within the Roman interval. This discover, in addition to outcomes from pottery from Roman Belgium (Oudemans Reference Oudemans2009), reveals that black materials and black crusts on pottery rims are worthy of additional investigation.


Cases the place the intentional human use of black henbane may be confirmed past an affordable doubt are uncommon. Solely a handful of archaeological examples may be cited: one discover in a grave and three finds from hospitals. The invention at Houten-Castellum, within the Roman Netherlands, of a bone cylinder closed at one finish with a birch-bark tar plug and full of black henbane seeds subsequently supplies an essential new case for the deliberate assortment and use of seeds from this plant. Classical texts describe the usage of henbane as a medicinal plant and it appears that evidently its makes use of have been additionally identified on the northern fringe of the Roman Empire. The 2 potential interpretations of the bone cylinder are that of a pipe or of a container. We argued in opposition to an interpretation as a pipe as a result of the bone was not heated and the black henbane seeds have been uncharred. Just one a part of the tar plug was heated and this will have occurred previous to its insertion into the bone cylinder.

Inclusion of the bone container in an abandonment deposit and the temporal affiliation with an inflorescence of black henbane recovered from a second abandonment deposit additional strengthens our conclusion that black henbane was an essential plant in Houten-Castellum. This significance was in all probability additionally mirrored throughout the broader Roman Netherlands given the frequent affiliation of black henbane with different crops with identified medicinal properties on this space, although extra analysis is required to grasp whether or not these associations are unintentional or intentional. Since one plant can produce a whole lot of seeds, concentrations of black henbane seeds can happen naturally and a lot of seeds by itself can’t be used as an argument for human use.

Black henbane presents issues for archaeobotanical interpretation because it may happen naturally at many of the archaeological websites the place it has been discovered. Because of this, it’s often grouped with wild crops. Our analyses present that the plant was utilized by individuals however unequivocal circumstances of intentional use are very uncommon. Nonetheless, we advise that black henbane shouldn’t be disregarded as a wild plant so shortly sooner or later; the contexts of finds and associations with different plant species and artefacts ought to first be rigorously thought-about.

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