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A baked beginning: The history of bongs

A baked beginning: The history of bongs

Session Goods
4 minute read

As we sat on the couch passing a Session bong, we couldn't help but wonder how this tradition began. So we did a little digging, and it turns out bongs have been part of our stoney past since ancient times. Here is our "book report" on the history of bongs.

Ancient bongs
The history of bongs

According to the findings available, the first known bongs were found a few years ago and are dated around 2,400 years ago. In 2013, archaeologist Andrei Belinski unearthed ancient bongs in southern Russia from grave mounds created by Iranian-Eurasian Scythian tribes. Herodotus, an Ancient Greek historian, had already written about the Scythians' rituals involving drugs but these findings significantly confirmed and expanded our knowledge about their lifestyle.

However, Scythian bongs don't look anything like what you'd see in stores today. Instead, these bongs are made of solid gold and decorated with intricate images of human figures in battle or various animals. Found within the bongs were traces of cannabis and opium, confirming what Herodotus had written about the Scythians' love for mind-altering substances. Before discovering the Scythians' bongs, archaeologists believed the earliest bongs came from a cave in Ethiopia. The cave contained 11 bongs from sometime between A.D. 1,100 and A.D. 1,400. These bongs were more complex and composed of pottery and animal horns. Parts of them were even built underground to help with filtration and cooling (now that's dedication). 

East Asian bongs

The first written records of bongs in Asia come from 16th century East Asia. When the Qing dynasty rolled around in 1644, bongs became the most popular way to smoke tobacco. There were two ways to make these water pipes at the time. One was made of bamboo and was considered a simple version more popular with rural commoners. Merchants, city folk and the elite used more elegant bongs made of metal crafted from brass or bronze.

Although water pipes became less popular over time, it is noted that Empress Dowager Cixi strongly preferred bongs over the alternatives. She adored them so profoundly that, when she died in 1908, she took three with her to the grave. A legend in our book. Another fascinating fact from this era is the word "bong" itself. The term comes from the Thai word "baung," which means cylindrical wooden tube and is believed to have entered American culture when Vietnam War veterans brought it back home after learning the word in Asia.

Setting the stage for modern bongs
The history of bongs, putting weed into a session bowl

For several centuries, bongs made their way through the world via the Silk Road, a collection of trade routes between East Asia and Europe. Once the use of bongs spread to Europe, they inevitably made their way to the Americas. As a result, their prevalence grew among European colonizers in America who grew tobacco, a wildly successful cash crop.

Then in the 1800s, the development of better glassworking methods provided people with improved bong-making material. Thus, the stage was finally set for the creation of the modern bong. Though bongs had been around for thousands of years already, their popularity truly soared in the 1960s. An American lampworker and glass artist, Bob Snodgrass, turned his attention to glass blowing bongs while following the Grateful Dead tour.

He designed and created an astounding amount of bongs during this time. Snodgrass used borosilicate glass (same) for his designs due to its ability to withstand high heat. He even developed a glassworking method called fuming, which uses gold and silver to add unusual colors to the glass. This method helped him create the signature psychedelic look that's dominated modern bongs for decades. 

See Article >> how the Session Bong changed the game!

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