OPIUM Opium is the dried sap obtained from the opium poppy. The poppy (also and in some ways more accurately known as the breadseed poppy for its edible seeds) was most likely native to the eastern Mediterranean, but prehistoric human activity has spread the flower so widely that it is difficult to tell; the plant has escaped cultivation and become naturalized into the wild in many regions. The opium poppy is prized because its sap contains the alkaloid drug morphine, a potent euphoric which can in turn be processed into a variety of other, still more powerful 'opioid' drugs such as codeine and oxycodone. Opioids have a number of medical uses, chiefly pain relief, though they have significant side effects. Evidence of opium use stretches back to prehistoric times, when it was common in the Mediterranean world and in regions stretching east to and through India. It was used in rituals and ceremonies, and also as an anesthetic by ancient surgeons. Raw opium remained in use in this latter role through the medieval era, in both Christian and Islamic civilization. Opium's effects, such as suppressing coughs and causing constipation, were useful in treating a variety of serious diseases in an era when most other medicines available were actively poisonous substances. This secured opium's role in medical science into modern times, finally supplanted by laudanum and later by morphine- that is, by the refined or chemically treated product of the opium poppy rather than the raw sap of the plant. The dark side of this medicinal use is that the euphoria from opioids is both psychologically and physically addictive. Throughout history, millions have fallen prey to opiate addiction, often drugged into insensibility or driven to crime by the need to get their next fix of the powerful drugs. This has become all the more pernicious with the rise of more potent ways of consuming the drug, beginning with the smoking of opium in the 18th century China (a development which ultimately drove China to war with Britain repeatedly in an attempt to stop the drug trade). The threat has evolved further in the 20th century with the rise of artificial opium derivatives such as heroin, which have become major contributors to socioeconomic blight, with millions of addicts throughout the developed world. HEMP Hemp is a term for the plant Cannabis sativa, which has been cultivated by humans towards two radically different ends. On the one hand, hemp contains the psychoactive chemical THC, and THC-rich strains of hemp known as 'marijuana' can be smoked as a recreational euphoric drug that is illegal in many countries. On the other hand, hemp is also a valuable source of oils, edible seeds, and especially fibers. In Europe, hemp was one of the best naturally occuring materials for rope-making and heavy canvas fabric- indeed, the word 'canvas' derives from the name 'cannabis.' Use of hemp in both roles dates back to prehistoric time, as the plant is ubiquitous throughout much of the Old World of Europe and the Eastern Hemisphere. SHELLFISH The word 'shellfish' is a collective term for a variety of edible marine life, particularly invertebrates with exoskeletons. Contrary to the name, no 'shellfish' is a true fish. Shellfish come from a variety of biological categories, including molluscs, crustaceans, and infrequently echinoderms such as the sea urchin. The main categories of shellfish are shelled crustaceans (such as lobsters, crayfish, crabs, and shrimp), often caught using traps, and sessile shelled molluscs (such as oysters and clams), which are typically harvested directly off of the rocks to which they attach themselves. Shellfish provided highly dependable harvests of seafood for many ancient societies, as demonstrated by the massive piles of discarded shells found in ancient garbage dumps uncovered by archaeologists. They continue to be caught and consumed eagerly today. BITUMEN Bitumen, otherwise known as asphalt, is an extremely sticky, semi-solid form of petroleum. It can be made artificially from petroleum, or harvested naturally from existing deposits, typically formed by the fossilized, heat and pressure-treated remains of prehistoric microorganisms such as diatoms. Bitumen can be found in naturally occurring lakes or pits (such as the famous La Brea tar pits of California in the United States), or in certain kinds of sandstone (in which form it is known as 'tar sands' or 'oil sands') Today, its primary use is as a construction material, providing a versatile, waterproof surface for roofing and (most famously) street pavements. It was used by the ancients as a form of cement and adhesive, to provide a watertight seal on the wooden hulls of ships, and in other capacities as a waterproofing agent. The Native Americans likewise used bitumen as an adhesive, and interestingly in some cases used its smoke as a mosquito repellent. It was also used as an embalming agent for the ancient Egyptians to mummify their dead. In the Far East, bitumen was 'cooked' down into a thermoplastic material suitable for artwork or carving.