New evidence suggests that humans smoked tobacco at least 12,000 years ago, according to scientists.
An archaeologist team discovered the evidence in a desert in the western American state of Utah. The excavation was focused on an old fireplace erected by a group of hunter-gatherers. Along with other things, the investigators discovered four charred seeds of a wild tobacco plant.
According to reports, the finding represents the oldest indication of tobacco usage. Stone tools and bird bones were among the other items discovered at the Utah site. The birds, according to the experts, served as sustenance for the community.
Until today, the first recorded usage of tobacco stemmed from the discovery of nicotine within an ancient pipe in Alabama, a southern state. The pipe, which was used for smoking, dates back 3,300 years.
The new discovery was disclosed in research published in the scholarly journal Nature Human Behavior.
According to the experts, the group may have smoked the tobacco or put parts of the plant in their mouths. They believe the users were looking for the pleasurable benefits that nicotine has on the body.
Tobacco use dates back to primitive communities in North and South America. Its usage expanded throughout the world after Europeans arrived more than five centuries ago.
Tobacco becomes a worldwide public health concern. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are over 1.3 billion tobacco smokers worldwide. Tobacco use is blamed for more than 8 million deaths per year, according to the WHO.
Daron Duke is a Nevada-based archaeologist with the Far Western Anthropological Research Group. He was the study’s primary author. Duke told Reuters that tobacco is the “monarch of intoxicant plants” over the world.
“And now we can trace its cultural roots right back to the Ice Age,” he continued.
The seeds belonged to a kind of desert tobacco known as Nicotiana attenuata, which is still found in the area. “This species was never domesticated, but it is still utilised by indigenous people in the area,” Duke explained.
According to scientists, the region was most likely marshland during the time the fireplace was utilised. During the Ice Age, the region had a chilly environment.
The fire’s relics were discovered in regions where the wind has been sweeping surface debris away since the wetland dried up around 9,500 years ago.
Duke remarked of the hunter-gatherers, “We know very little about their culture.” According to him, the most intriguing aspect of the discovery is the “social window it provides to a basic behaviour in an unrecorded past.”
“My mind is free to go wild,” he continued.
Tobacco domestication occurred thousands of years later elsewhere on the continent, according to Duke, including the Southwestern and Southeastern United States, as well as Mexico.
Some scholars believe that tobacco was the first plant domesticated in North America. They believe this occurred as a result of the substance’s societal impacts, rather than for dietary considerations.
Duke believes the discovery shows that hunter-gatherers were skilled tobacco producers long before food necessities pushed investments in agriculture.
Header Image: Archaeologist Daron Duke (L) and colleague Michael Shane work in this undated handout photo released on October 11, 2021, at an ancient hearth dating to 12,300 years ago at the Wishbone site in Great Salt Lake Desert in northern Utah. (Sarah K. Rice/Handout via REUTERS)