They identify the contents of small vessels that the ancient Mayans used to store drugs

Updated:17/01/2021 01: 02h

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In Mesoamerica, native communities such as the Nahuas and the Mayans they had ritual specialists or shamans who communicate with supernatural entities and ancestors through altered states of consciousnessinduced by ingestion of psychoactive plants.

However, the exact content of these ancient practices remains a mystery. Now, a new study from Washington State University sheds light on this field, while paving the way for future studies of psychoactive and non-psychoactive plants smoked or chewed by the Mayans and other pre-Columbian societies.

The research, whose conclusions are published in the journal Science Reports, applies the metabolomic analysis, instead of biomarkers (anabasine, caffeine, nicotine) that had been used until now. The first can detect thousands of plant compounds or metabolites in residues collected from archaeological objects, what significantly broadens the possible detection of chemical compounds.

«Although it has been established that the tobacco was commonly used, the evidence of other plants used for medicinal or religious purposes has remained largely unexplored“Said Mario Zimmermann, the anthropologist who led the study. These new methods of analysis “give us the ability to investigate drug use in the ancient world like never before,” said the scientist.

The team analyzed the content of fourteen “poisonous”, some small vessels buried more than thousand years in the Mexican peninsula of Yucatan. They divided them into two groups: those that had been recently excavated and those that were in museums.

They were able to identify reference materials fromtwo different species of tobacco“Nicotiana tabacum” and “N. rustic ». They also found Mexican calendula (“Tagetes lucida”). Is the first time that the presence of a plant not related to tobacco is found in an archaeological residue. Researchers think it was added to the mix in order to have a most enjoyable experience.

Scientists note that this plant is “commonly known for its role in ceremonies of the dead, which seem to have pre-Columbian roots »in Mexico and Guatemala. Therefore, the finding provides information on the persistence in the use of certain substances that have maintained their importance among native communities

“We’re expanding the borders in the archaeological science so that we can better investigate the deep relationships people have had in the past with a wide range of psychoactive plants, that were (and continue to be) consumed by humans around the world, ”said Shannon Tushingham, co-author of the study. “There’s a lot ingenious ways in which people drive, uses, handles and prepares plants and mixtures, and archaeologists are only beginning to scratch the surface of the antiquity of these practices. ‘

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