Is there opium here? – Analysis of cypriot Base Ring juglets from Tel Beth-Shemesh, Israel

Zuzana Chovanec, Shlomo Bunimovitz*, Zvi Lederman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Over half a century ago Robert Merrillees raised a brilliant hypothesis according to which Late Cypriot Base Ring juglets, supposedly shaped like inverted poppy seed pod to advertise their contents, traded opium over the Eastern Mediterranean. This most appealing idea was enthusiastically embraced by students of the Ancient Near East, in spite of the meager scientific evidence supporting it. In order to provide new insights to this intriguing issue four Base Ring I juglets recently found in a secured Late Bronze IIA (14th century BCE) context at Tel Beth-Shemesh, Israel, were submitted for residue analysis at the University of New York at Albany. No traces of opium were found in these juglets. Analysis of 14 additional Base Ring juglets and jugs from Cyprus yielded similar results. Rather, the juglets from Beth-Shemesh contained aromatic oils which could be used externally or consumed for their medicinal benefits. It seems that the one and only positive case as yet of a Base Ring juglet containing opium (from an unprovenanced origin, probably reused) is an exception that proves the rule – Base Ring juglets mainly carried non-narcotic substances.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175-189
Number of pages15
JournalMediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry
Issue number2
StatePublished - 29 Aug 2015


  • Base Ring juglets
  • Cyprus
  • GC-MS
  • Late Bronze Age
  • Opium trade
  • Organic Residue analysis (ORA)
  • Tel Beth-Shemesh


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