Charred seeds found in the Utah desert represent the earliest known human use of tobacco, evidence that some of the first humans to arrive in America used the plant, according to new research. The discovery reveals that humans used tobacco nearly 10,000 years earlier than previously thought, the researchers said.
Of all the intoxicating plants that humans use and abuse, tobacco has undoubtedly had the most critical social and economic impact, the researchers say in the new study. It often played sacred, ceremonial, or medical roles among ancient Maya and other Native American groups, and it helped drive the American colonial economy and thus Western expansion throughout the New World.
In addition to smoking, chewing and sniffing, people have used tobacco in a variety of ways over the centuries. For example, ancient Mayan rituals may have been used at times intoxicating enemas of tobacco-woven liquids, and 18th century English physicians gave drowning victims enemas of tobacco smoke in attempts to save their lives.
Until now, the earliest known evidence of human tobacco use of nicotine was found in smoking pipes in Alabama, dating back about 3,300 years, according to research published in 2018 in Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. Now, scientists have found evidence that people used tobacco about 9,000 years earlier than previously thought.
Related: 10 things we learned about the first Americans in 2018
In the new study, archaeologists excavated the remains of a hunter-gatherer camp on mud flats in the Great Salt Lake Desert, Utah. Wind helped uncover the site over time, said study lead author Daron Duke, an archaeologist at the Far Western Anthropological Research Group in Henderson, Nevada.
The researchers identified an intact ancient fireplace surrounded by stone stones, such as spearheads commonly used to hunt large game. The hearth also contained more than 2,000 bones and bone fragments, mostly belonging to ducks, which cut marks and other evidence suggesting that people who were cooking and eating.
The fireplace contained pieces of charred willow, which was probably the best firewood setting in the region, as it usually is now in modern nearby areas. The researchers then analyzed the tree with carbon dating, which involves measuring the amount of a radioactive form of carbon at a known rate of decay; the results suggested that this tree was about 12,300 years old.
Inside the fireplace, researchers found the remains of four charred tobacco seeds. “The tobacco seeds were an unexpected surprise,” Duke told WordsSideKick.com.
Although the researchers cannot say with certainty how people in this place used tobacco, they said the seeds suggested the presence of nicotine-laden tobacco leaves and flowering stems. Maybe the people there chewed or smoked tobacco by the fireplace, the team said.
The researchers noted that others may claim that the tobacco was not used for its nicotine, but may have come from the stomach of the ducks that had eaten it, or it was used as fuel for burning. The researchers noted that birds do not eat tobacco and that tobacco lacks wood material and therefore burns too quickly to generate a fire of sufficient strength or duration for most cooking.
These findings suggest that people used tobacco for thousands of years before the unknown time humans first domesticated this plant, Duke said.
“In the past, people were the ultimate botanists and quickly identified the intoxicating values of tobacco when they arrived in America,” Duke said.
Further research on this and other ancient sites with evidence of tobacco use could help shed light on the driving cultural forces behind the cultivation, use and subsequent domestication of tobacco, the researchers said.
“We’ve been working to get native input on the significance and significance of the find,” Duke said. “This will not only help us understand the find for the common scientific reasons, but also help us learn more about its values for the people whose ancestors camped on the site and lived throughout the region. This is really important for it. broader purpose to do this science at all so that we can understand the implications of a variety of interests. “
The researchers detailed their findings online Monday (October 11) in the journal Nature Human behavior.
Originally published on Live Science.