Ancient Chileans All Lit Up

By: The Scribe on Monday, July 1, 2013

MUMMIES-NICOTINE-570According to a study by the University of Chile in Santiago, the hair of mummies from the site of San Pedro de Atacama in Chile has revealed that the ancient people living here between 100 B.C. and 1450 A.D. had a tough time kicking their nicotine habit.

Popular theories on the people in this region, prior to the study, centered around a short-stinted use of tobacco that led to a greater use of snuffed hallucinogens—but it looks like this new finding refutes that theory rather soundly.

The hair of the mummies showed that nicotine consumption was all-encompassing in terms of the population, with no variation according to wealth or social status. Everyone smoked!

The hair samples came from 56 mummies that were excellently preserved due to the dryness of the soil and high soil salinity in the Atacama Desert. Various objects were buried with the mummies—jewelry, weapons, ceramics, textiles, metals, and various snuffing paraphernalia such as tubes and mortars—and these objects provided researchers with information on the social standing & wealth of each individual.

Nicotine was found in the hair of 35 mummies whose ages at burial ranged from young to old, and the traces of nicotine were unrelated to the snuffing paraphernalia also found buried within the tombs.

While there’s not a whole lot to say about the find as of yet, preliminary thoughts on the unexpected “everyone smoked!” discovery seem to simply be that this pre-Hispanic society wasn’t stratified by the use of nicotine—everyone used it, regardless of social standing, for hundreds of years.

More results on the mummies will be published this October in the Journal of Archaeological Science.


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