While digging at the site of a rural, first-century AD Roman settlement in Houten-Castellum in the Netherlands, archaeologists uncovered a most unusual artifact. Inside a hollowed-out animal bone, they discovered a collection of well-preserved black henbane seeds, which had apparently been stored there on purpose.
Decoding the Purpose of Henbane Seed Collection in a Roman Settlement
In an article to appear in the journal Antiquity, the team of researchers analyzed the bone and its contents. They presented evidence to show that the settlers in the old Roman village, which is located 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Amsterdam, were intentionally saving henbane seeds because the plant had value in their society.
Black henbane is known to have both healing and hallucinogenic effects, and presumably the people who saved the henbane seeds were aware of these benefits. Whoever put them inside the hollow bone (which is believed to have come from a sheep or a goat) plugged the bone with a solid stopper made from black birch-bark tar.
This clearly showed it was container designed to store something important. There were hundreds of henbane seeds inside, indicating the collector was serious about collecting a good-sized sample.
The hollowed-out animal bone container, filled with henbane seeds, as pictured during the excavations in the Netherlands. (Van Renswoude et. al. / Antiquity)
Until now, no conclusive proof had ever been found to suggest that the properties of black henbane were understood by people…