Consumption of tobacco, whose plant Nicotiana is originally from America, was widespread among indigenous populations throughout North and South America before European contact. Its use to this day has had great repercussions on society. But when the plant began to expand geographically has been the subject of debate among the scientific community.
The discovery of a 3,300-year-old smoking pipe, dating from 1685-1530 BC, in the southeastern United States, in the State of Alabama, revealed the oldest traces of nicotine so far.
People were able to use small leafy wrappers around the tobacco and put into their mouths to be sucked or chewed
The study suggested that first tobacco users they lived in the Pre-agricultural North America, and that tobacco exploitation spread to the southeast almost a millennium earlier than the hypotheses of the time indicated. However, a new work, published now in the magazine Nature Human Behavior, shows that humans used tobacco 9,000 years earlier than previously thought.
The team of Far Western Anthropological Research Group in the US, led by the researcher Daron Duke, excavated the remains of a hunter-gatherer camp at the Wishbone site, located in the Great Salt Lake Wilderness of Utah, and which during the Pleistocene was a great wetland.
The authors identified an intact human home with a old bonfire from a few ago 12,300 years, surrounded by stone artifacts (as lithic spearheads) and waterfowl bone (What Ducks). Inside the home the remains of four charred tobacco seeds, which in other deposits is believed to have been a by-product of chewing tobacco.
What function did these seeds have about 12,300 years ago? Other remains found at the site suggest that tobacco was not used as fuel, nor was it consumed by animals as it was toxic. In the article, the scientists speculate that although the seeds do not contain nicotine, they could be used for smoking. “It’s an obvious possibility,” Duke tells SINC.
They also indicate that people were able to use small wrappers of vegetal leaf around the tobacco and that they put in the mouth to be sucked or chewed. The seeds could have been spit out. “There is archaeological evidence in the region that people did this, so it seems possible too,” he continues.
It is interesting to analyze how the domestication of an intoxicating plant such as tobacco intersects with that of food crops around the same time.
Food and tobacco, simultaneous crops
With this finding, the researchers show that tobacco use did not require domestication. “People used it thousands of years before domestication. And it seems that this has other reasons to occur, based on population and food needs, “says the scientist.
According to archaeologists, this type of research could help to better understand, especially from a cultural perspective, the reasons that drove the cultivation, use and subsequent domestication of tobacco.
“It is interesting to analyze how the domestication of a intoxicating plant as tobacco intersects with that of food crops around the same time. People would be attending to their social needs as well as food, “concludes Duke.