Earliest known use of tobacco revealed

Archaeological evidence indicates that humans first started using tobacco around 12,300 years ago.

Tobacco is the common name of several plants in the Nicotiana genus of the Solanaceae family.

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The intoxicant plant has had an important role in the traditions of many Indigenous North American groups, with previous evidence suggesting that the earliest users of tobacco lived in pre-agricultural North America approximately 3,000 years ago.

In a new study published in the journal – Nature Human Behaviour, archaeologists have been excavating a hunter-gatherer camp at the Wishbone site situated in the Great Salt Lake Desert in Utah.

The researchers found an intact hearth (ancient fireplace) which has been dated to around 12,300 years ago, surrounded by stone and bone artefacts, such as Haskett spear-tips used to hunt large game.

Within the hearth was remains of four charred tobacco seeds, which at other sites are thought to be a by-product of chewing tobacco.

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“On a global scale, tobacco is the king of intoxicant plants, and now we can directly trace its cultural roots to the Ice Age,” said archaeologist Daron Duke of the Far Western Anthropological Research Group in Nevada.

The findings suggest that tobacco was used by humans for thousands of years before it was domesticated. As such, they may help us to better understand — from a cultural perspective — the driving forces behind the cultivation, use and subsequent domestication of tobacco. Find out more

Header Image Credit : Daron Duke

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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 8,000 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.

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