Oldest traces of human opium use found in burial site in Israel
A general view of a vessel found during excavations at Tel Yehud, where Israeli researchers discovered 3,500 year-old traces of opium inside ceramic vessels at an ancient burial site. Assaf Peretz/Israel Antiquities Authority/dpa

Israeli researchers have found traces of opium in ceramic vessels in an ancient burial site dating back some 3,500 years.

It is the earliest known evidence of human opium use, according to a statement released on Tuesday by Tel Aviv University, the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The Canaanites used the psychoactive drug as an "offering for the dead," researchers believe, according to the statement.

The ceramic vessels containing opium were found during excavations at Tel Yehud, near Tel Aviv, where Canaanite tombs dating back to the 14th century BC are located.

"This exciting discovery confirms historical writings and archaeological hypotheses according to which opium and its trade played a central role in the cultures of the Near East," the joint statement said.

The vessels, some of which were made in Cyprus and some locally, resembled an opium poppy capsule in shape, according to the statement.