According to new archaeological evidence, tobacco has been used in the Americas for at least 12,300 years. This discovery pushes back the dating of the plant’s cultural adoption by about 9,000 years, implying that some of the continent’s first humans utilized it. Tobacco, which originated in the Americas, is now grown and consumed on a large basis all over the world. Previous discoveries in the southeastern United States have found the presence of nicotine residues on smoking pipes dating back roughly 3,300 years, revealing the plant’s social and cultural importance among ancient indigenous tribes in North America. However, according to the authors of a recent study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, hunter-gatherers may have been smoking tobacco for millennia while sitting around communal fires.
“Tobacco has undoubtedly had more impact on worldwide patterns in history than any other psychoactive substance,” they write, “although the extent to which its cultural linkages go has been fiercely contested.” They explain the discovery of four burnt tobacco seeds in an intact hearth at the Wishbone hunter-gatherer settlement in Utah’s Great Salt Lake Desert to help settle the debate.
Radiocarbon dating is a method of determining the age of discovered that the ancient fireplace was roughly 12,300 years old, and that the seeds came from a local tobacco species named Nicotiana attenuata, according to morphological study. Spear tips, animal bones, the entrails of a roasted bird, stone tools, and a single piece of eggshell also found near the hearth.
The discovery “recalibrates studies on tobacco as a domesticate,” according to the study’s authors, “placing some 8,000 to 10,000 years of human use before the major efflorescence of agriculture in North America and the domestication of [other tobacco species].” The fact that the plant has been used for so long precedes agriculture is significant because it illustrates how wild tobacco species shaped ancient cultures that influenced succeeding generations of Native Americans.
While the discovery suggests that tobacco was used in some form over 12,000 years ago, the researchers claim that it is impossible to determine how it is consumed. That entire can conclude is that seeds thrown into the fire at some point; however, it is unclear whether they came from a pipe loaded with tobacco leaves and inhaled, or spat into the flames after being chewed. Tobacco is now used by millions of individuals all over the world in a variety of ways, and it has had a significant impact on human society and health. This finding brings us back to the genesis of humanity’s interaction with this divisive plant, shedding light on the first humans who fell prey to its enchantment.