The Storyteller by Martin Pate

Oldest Known Evidence of Tobacco Use in North America Found in Ice Age Hunting Camp


An Ice Age Hunting Camp replete with the bird bones and tobacco has been found in Utah, USA. It is the oldest known evidence of tobacco use found so far.

According to Western Digs , the discovery took a place in the dead-flat desert of northwestern Utah, USA, where archaeologists uncovered the remnants of an Ice Age site. It has been hidden only a few centimeters below the surface. During the excavations, researchers discovered a campground used by the prehistoric hunter-gatherers 12,300 years ago.

The site contained artifacts, including the charred remains of an ancient hearth, a finely crafted spear point, and, most surprisingly, a collection of tobacco seeds. It is the oldest known evidence of tobacco use in North America. According to Dr. Daron Duke, senior archaeologist with the Nevada-based  Far Western Anthropological Research Group , the most interesting part of the discovery is that there is no direct evidence that people used tobacco past 3,000 years ago, but this research proved its use more than 12,000 years ago.

Tobacco seeds (representational image only)

Tobacco seeds (representational image only). Credit: Hula Girl Store

The discovery was accomplished due to the remote reaches of U.S. Air Force’s Utah Test and Training Range , a proving grounds in the salt flats west of Salt Lake City. The first exploration took place in 2015, and in the early stage was focused on thousands of acres of the range that had never been explored before. The researchers returned this summer and decided to excavate a specific part of the site.

After the first week of excavations, archeologists found a collection of over 60 items. Apart from the spear tip and seeds (spear 8-10 cm long, used for hunting birds), archeologists unearthed many stone flakes left over during the process of making tools. The bones of geese and ducks allowed the identification of what hunters ate in the Ice Age.

In 2015, Duke also reported a staggering array of more than 1,000 large stone points. The area contained traces of mammoth residue, providing the first evidence of mammoth hunting in the Great Basin. The tools discovered in the area were also dated back to the Ice Age, when the temperature was around 10 – 15 degrees cooler on average than now. The research in the desert of Utah will be continued.


In 2015, the research team found evidence of mammoth hunting

In 2015, the research team found evidence of mammoth hunting ( public domain )

However, the most important part of the discovery is the evidence of tobacco in such an early period in history. Researchers try to explore the history of drug use in many parts of the world. As Mark Miller from Ancient Origins wrote:

''Neanderthals on speed 60,000 years ago; Paleolithic art inspired by psilocybin or  Amanita muscaria  mushroom trips; and alcohol-fueled religious worship all over the world down through the ages – these are just some of the drug-taking behaviors reported in a new research paper which looked at decades of archaeological evidence to see how prevalent the use of psychoactive substances and other reality-bending practices was in prehistory. The paper also explores the link between religion and hallucinogens, stimulants, alcoholic beverages and other substances.

Elisa Guerra-Doce, an archaeologist at the University of Valladolid in Spain, says that altered states of consciousness were very nearly ubiquitous in societies throughout prehistory and history. An anthropologist who studied 488 human societies published a paper in 1973 that said 437 or 90 percent of them reportedly incorporated altered states of consciousness (ASC) into their fundamental belief systems.

People also apparently got high on opium as the poppy was domesticated in the western Mediterranean 8,000 years ago; the mildly stimulating (among other benefits) coca leaves for tea and chewing in South America from at least 6,000 B.C.; cannabis (marijuana) in central Asia 7,000 years ago and hallucinogenic nightshade all over the world as long ago as 5,000 years. There were tobacco in the New World 4,000 years ago, hallucinogenic yopo snuff from the New World more than 4,000 years ago, and hallucinogenic mushrooms from various places and times around the world.''

Top image: The Storyteller by  Martin Pate  (Courtesy, Southeast Archeological Center, National Park Service)

By Natalia Klimzcak

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