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For millennia, pre-Columbian peoples have used various species of plants native to South America for their healing and psychoactive properties that altered states of consciousness.
However, until now, there was only archaeological evidence of the use of psychotropic drugs, like alcohol or caffeine. The use of other psychoactive substances it has been more difficult to document.
A new study, published in the journal PNAS, provides the first chemical sample of the ritual use of multiple psychoactive plants in Bolivia Pre-Columbian, thanks to the analysis of a set of objects about a thousand years old, recovered in a cave in the highlands of the Andes, southwest of Bolivia.
New Zealand, American and Colombian scientists analyzed the chemical composition of the artifacts found in the ritual coffin: a large leather bag with a pair of carved wooden boards for snuff (snuff), a snuff tube, a pair of llama bone spatulas, a cloth ribbon, dried plant stem fragments held together by wool and fiber ropes, and three attached bags made from fox snouts.
The results, obtained by liquid chromatography in tandem mass spectrometry, reveal the presence of at least five psychoactive compounds on the cover made from fox snouts and on the stems of dried plants: cocaine, benzoylecgonine, harmine, bufotenine, and dimethyltryptamine.
"At least three plants that contain these components were part of shamanic paraphernalia dating back 1,000 years. To date, it is the largest number of compounds recovered from a single piece in this area of the world ”, emphasize the authors of the Pennsylvania State University (USA), the University of Otago (New Zealand) and the Greater University of San Andrés (Bolivia), among others.
Use of multiple plants
According to the researchers, the presence of cocaine suggests that the bag contained coca leaves, and the bufotenin trace indicates that the seeds of vilca or cebil (Anadenanthera colubrina) were transported in the sheath of fox snouts, ground on the boards. , e inhaled with the suction tube.
The appearance of harmine, abundant in yage (Banisteriopsis caapi), and dimethyltryptamine, found in chacruna (Psychotria viridis), shows that multiple plants may have been used to make ayahuasca. The plants may have been consumed as a tobacco compound or made into a potent beverage, so the consumption of ayahuasca in shamanic rituals should already have occurred a millennium ago.
The work indicates that the shamans had a sophisticated botanical knowledge in pre-Columbian times and that the many plants used came from disparate and distant ecological areas in South America.
Melanie J. Miller, Juan Albarracin-Jordan, Christine Moore and José Capriles “Chemical evidence for the use of multiple psychotropic plants in a 1,000-year-old ritual bundle from South America”PNAS May 6, 2019.