Some indigenous peoples of South America prepare a drink called ayahuasca, based on psychoactive compounds that cause hallucinogenic effects.
A new study shows that this concoction was already used in shamanic ceremonies about a thousand years ago. Analysis of the organic remains of a ritual coffin has revealed the presence of at least five narcotic components.
For millennia, pre-Columbian peoples have used various species of plants native to South America for their healing andpsychoactive that altered states of consciousness. However, until now, there was only archaeological evidence of the consumption of psychotropics, such as alcohol or caffeine. The use of other psychoactive substances has been more difficult to document.
The study provides the first chemical sample of the ritual use of multiple psychoactive plants in pre-Columbian Bolivia
A new study, published today in the journalPNAS, provides the first chemical sample of the ritual use of multiple psychoactive plants in thePre-Columbian Bolivia, thanks to the analysis of a set of objects about a thousand years old, recovered in acave in the highlands of theAndes, 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 in the sheath made from fox snouts and in the stems of dried plants: cocaine, benzoylecgonine, harmine, bufotenin Ydimethyltryptamine.
“At least three plants containing these components were part of shamanic paraphernalia that dates back 1,000 years ago. 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.
Shamans had a sophisticated botanical knowledge in pre-Columbian times
Use of multiple plants
According to the researchers, the presence of cocaine suggests that the bag containedCoca leaves, and the footprint of bufotenin suggests that vilca or cebil (Anadenanthera colubrina) were carried in the sheath of fox snouts, ground on wooden boards, and inhaled with the suction tube.
The appearance of harmine, abundant in the 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 drink, so the consumption of ayahuasca in shamanic rituals must have occurred a millennium ago.
The work indicates that shamans had 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