Researchers Discover Mayans Used Tobacco
January 12, 2012

Researchers Discover Mayans Used Tobacco

A recent discovery by researchers Dmitri Zagorevski, director of the Proteomics Core in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Jennifer Loughmiller-Newman, a doctoral candidate at the University at Albany, proves the Ancient Mayans used tobacco.

The researchers studied scrapings from a two-and-a-half-inch high and wide container, made around 700 A.D., that was decorated with hieroglyphics depicting the actual contents, calling it “The home of his/her tobacco.”

The technology used to analyze the scraped residue is usually reserved to study diseases and proteins. Researchers used gas chromatography mass spectrometry and high performance liquid chromatography mass spectrometry. These techniques combine the physical separation capabilities of gas or liquid chromatography with the analysis capabilities of mass spectrometry, which determines molecular weights of compounds, elemental composition and structural characteristics.

When the residue was analyzed they discovered nicotine using both techniques. Also discovered were three oxidation products of nicotine, created by nicotine´s exposure to air and bacteria. The tobacco residue was found to be unsmoked tobacco. They found none of the nicotine byproducts associated with smoked tobacco or ashtrays.

The tobacco contained in the vessel was also discovered to be so strong that it may have been hallucinogenic. But this tobacco may not have been smoked. The Mayans ground tobacco into a powder that could be made into an alcoholic drink, snorted like snuff or used as a snake repellant.

The study, titled “The detection of nicotine in a Late Mayan period flask by GCMS and LCMS methods” was published in the journal Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry.


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