Pubdate: Sun, 19 Oct 2008
Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Copyright: 2008 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Author: Jonathan Leake, Science Editor


Stone Age humans could well have deserved the name. Scientists have 
found the drug paraphernalia used by prehistoric humans to cook up 
herbal mixtures to get themselves high.

Scientists have long suspected that humans have an ancient history of 
drug use but much of the evidence has been indirect, ranging from the 
bizarre images found in prehistoric cave art to the discovery of hemp 
seeds in excavations.

Now, however, researchers have found equipment used to prepare 
hallucinogenic drugs for sniffing, and dated them back to South 
American tribes.

Quetta Kaye, of University College London, and Scott Fitzpatrick, an 
archeologist from North Carolina State University, found the ceramic 
bowls, plus tubes used to inhale drug fumes or powders, on the 
Caribbean island of Carriacou.

The bowls appear to have originated in South America between 100BC 
and 400BC and were then carried the 400 miles to the islands. One 
implication is that drug use may have been widespread for thousands 
of years before this time.

Kaye's research, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, 
said: "The objects tested for this study are ceramic inhaling bowls 
that were likely used for the ingestion of hallucinogenic substances."

The use of such paraphernalia for inhaling drugs is well-known but 
the age was a surprise. What is less clear is exactly which drugs 
would have been used. Cannabis was not found in the Caribbean then.

There were, however, alternatives. Kaye believes one of the most 
likely was cohoba, a hallucinogen made from the beans of a mimosa species.

Archeological investigations in Mexico and Texas have found indirect 
evidence that as far back as 5,000 years ago humans were extracting 
mind-expanding drugs from mescal beans and peyote cacti, while 
opiates can be obtained from species such as poppies.

Fungi may also have been used. Moulds, including the powerfully 
hallucinogenic ergot found on rotting vegetation, were common in 
caves. Fungi like the fly agaric toadstool or psilocybin mushroom 
were also widespread.

Richard Davenport-Hines, a former history lecturer at the London 
School of Economics and author of The Pursuit of Oblivion, a global 
history of narcotics, believes humans have been using drugs for 
thousands of years.

"Drug use became widespread in many early agriculture-based societies 
simply because it was the only way people could cope with spending 
long hours working in the fields, often in horrible conditions like 
baking sun," he said.

Many archeologists believe religion and spiritual beliefs must also 
have played a part, with drugs being used to induce spiritual or 
trance-like states. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake