New Research Shows Humans Have Been Using Tobacco Since the Stone Age


Oct 22, 2021


Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Did you know humans started using tobacco when mammoths were still roaming the Earth? If you didn’t, don’t worry, scientists are astounded at this revelation too. 

Archaeologists found charred tobacco seeds from 12,300 years ago at an ancient hunter-gatherer campsite in Nevada, Texas in 2015. This discovery is 9,000 years older than what was previously estimated as the time humans started using tobacco.

Published this month in Nature Human Behavior, a study on this discovery notes that “tobacco arguably has had more impact on global patterns in history than any other psychoactive substance, but how deep its cultural ties extend has been widely debated.” And now, the study has added yet another layer to this “debate.”

How could the scientists know that it was humans who were consuming tobacco, you ask? Researchers ruled out the possibility of the seeds having originated from the stomachs of ducks or other waterfowl whose bones were found at the site. They believe birds and animals tend to avoid consuming the plant since it’s toxic to them.

Researchers have also dismissed any likelihood of tobacco just being used as fuel. According to them, tobacco can’t grow in the area where the seeds were found — suggesting it wasn’t just a plant that was growing around and happened to be used by humans to build a fire. In addition, it also lacks the woody tissue that helps sustain a fire. This points towards a deliberate effort on part of our ancestors, who carried it from elsewhere — likely to partake in the intoxicating effect of its leaves and flowering stems.

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What the researchers don’t know yet is whether our ancestors chewed the tobacco or smoked it.

“The way I look at it, (intoxicants) are a necessity of life. People imbibe these things — think of your morning cup of coffee. Why shouldn’t people back then have done it?” Daron Duke from the Far Western Anthropological Research Group in the U.S., and the lead author of the study, told reporters. “This species [of tobacco] is used by indigenous people in the region to this day,” Duke added.

Lately, archaeological discoveries have told us a lot about our intoxicated — and, on occasion, even hallucinating — ancestors. Just last week, a study found that our pre-historic ancestors may have been enjoying a diet of beer and blue cheese as many as 2,700 years ago.

Earlier this year, another study suggested that prehistoric humans from the stone age were probably hallucinating while creating paintings in deep, dark parts of caves.

The present study appears to have added yet another gem to this line of discoveries. “To see them, fireside, using tobacco — we can pretty readily imagine what they were getting out of it… It’s very human to imbibe,” Duke added. 

Is it just me, or do these discoveries make you wonder what it would be like to party with the “Stone Age crowd” too?


Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, a painter by shaukh, and autistic by birth. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.


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