SCIENCES – Four charred tobacco seeds were unearthed by American archaeologists at the Wishbone site, near Great Salt Lake, Utah. Nestled in a chimney dating back 12,300 years, they prove that the native Americans already consumed this plant with the leaves rich in nicotine, details an article published this Monday, October 11 in Nature Human Behavior.
Until then, the earliest evidence from smoking pipes suggested that the earliest tobacco users lived in North America, around 3,000 years ago.
Archaeologists had to determine if these seeds found in a prehistoric home were actually consumed by humans. Because they could indeed have been used as fuel or ingested by game cooked in the fireplace. But these two hypotheses have been ruled out.
Regarding the first theory, the tobacco plant is not a probable fuel. It burns quickly and cannot generate a fire strong enough for most cooking. And as for the second, it was revealed that the tobacco plant is not part of the diet of waterfowl and is sometimes even toxic to them. In addition, the plant is found at altitude, far from the living environments of these aquatic species. So the natural factor has been abandoned. These tobacco seeds are biin the fruit of human consumption, say the researchers.
Two plants, two uses
But don’t get me wrong, 9,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers didn’t smoke like firefighters. Today, humans inhale nicotine for relaxation, stress or addiction, and often individually. Before, it was a collective activity, by the fireside in the same way as the kitchen, underlines the archaeologists. Above all, tobacco was not necessarily smoked, the plant could also be chewed and sucked. Near the Wishbone site, more than 1900 preparations of vegetable chewing tobacco balls have been found.
In addition, our cigarettes today are made of dry tobacco from a plant: the Nicotiana tabacum. It is more powerful and above all easy to market in packages, hence its rise. The primitive populations of America consumed Nicotiana rustica, as a study by the American Academy of Sciences (PNAS) points out.
The primitive version of tobacco has not, however, disappeared from America. ”We mix it with from lime. This allows it to be chewed or applied directly to the body. It is recognized for its therapeutic virtues», tells Le Figaro the research director at the CNRS and specialist in pre-Columbian America, Danièle Dehouve. In Peru, the Quechua populations apply it to the hair to eliminate lice.
See also on The Huffpost: Archaeologists have discovered a fast food restaurant in the ruins of Pompeii.
This article originally appeared on The HuffPost and has been updated.