Researchers at Washington State University (WSU) tested pipes at archaeological sites 1,400 years ago and found that Native Americans who lived in what is now Washington state were not just smoking,media reported. The plant, known as a smooth lacquered tree, may have been used for medicinal purposes in North America, but what excited archaeologists is the way to discover it.
Smoking on the American continent dates back at least 5,000 years, and has been the subject of many studies, but according to the University of Wisconsin, no traces of non-tobacco plants have been found in the remains of an archaeological pipe.
In the latest study, researchers found traces of a smooth lacquered tree in a tube excavated in central Washington, as well as a residue called Nicotiana Quadrivalvis, which has been grown in the area in the past.
“Smoking often plays a religious or ritual role for Native American tribes, and our research shows that these specific plants were important to these communities in the past,” said Chloe Brownstein, who led the study and now works at the University of Chicago. We believe that smooth lacquer trees mixed with tobacco may have medicinal qualities and improve the taste of smoke. “
The important thing about this latest finding is that the team at Wisconsin State University was able to identify specific plant species entering the pipe rather than just speculate, as previous scholars have done.
They were able to do this because they used a new method of analysis — tiny plant compounds– which are intermediate or final products of metabolism. Previously, scientists were content to identify plants in pipe residues by simple biomarkers such as nicotine, bitter amygdala, cantininandin and caffeine. While these are also useful, metabolites can lead to more specific identification and provide a wider range of markers.
“Not only does it tell you, yes, that you’ve found the plants you’re interested in, it’s also telling you what you’ve smoked,” says Professor David Gang of the Institute of Biochemistry at Washington State University. Also, if you’re just looking for some specific biomarker, you won’t know what else this artifact is consuming. “