Archaeology Magazine

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Nicotine Detected in Chilean Mummies

Monday, July 01, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-07-01 at 3.07.18 PMSANTIAGO, CHILE—Tests on the hair of 56 naturally formed mummies found in Chile’s Atacama Desert show that the people of San Pedro de Atacama smoked tobacco from at least 100 B.C. to A.D. 1450. It had been thought that their tobacco use was minimal and took place over a short span of time. “The idea was that around A.D. 400, people in San Pedro de Atacama (SPA) smoked tobacco in pipes, and then after that time, they gradually switched to inhaling dimethyltryptamines in snuffing trays. What we show is that’s not correct,” said organic chemist Hermann Niemeyer of the University of Chile. Niemeyer and his team found nicotine in the hair of 35 mummies. It was not linked to social status or wealth, based upon the artifacts deposited with them.