Tobacco was one of the most important substances among Native American tribes in the New World. At the time of European discovery this agricultural product was widespread throughout the Americas. How and when tobacco arrived in different regions throughout the New World is one of the questions those of us who are interested in long distance trade and cultural contacts are interested in answering. One of the ways of tracking long distance trade is to track the earliest appearance of trade goods in various regions. New techniques for doing this have been established in recent years and have helped fill in the picture of ancient trade routes. The earliest physical evidence of tobacco in the Maya world can now be securely dated to 700 AD. (Of course we suspect from various artwork that depicts smoking and artifacts such as pipes that were used in smoking that tobacco arrived much earlier than this.) Read the article below to find out how researchers were able to securely arrive at the earliest date for tobacco in Mesoamerica:
A scientist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and an anthropologist from the University at Albany teamed up to use ultra-modern chemical analysis technology at Rensselaer to analyze ancient Mayan pottery for proof of tobacco use in the ancient culture. Dmitri Zagorevski, director of the Proteomics Core in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS) at Rensselaer, and Jennifer Loughmiller-Newman, a doctoral candidate at the University at Albany, have discovered the first physical evidence of tobacco in a Mayan container. Their discovery represents new evidence on the ancient use of tobacco in the Mayan culture and a new method to understand the ancient roots of tobacco use in the Americas….
To make their discovery, the researchers had a unique research opportunity: a more than 1,300-year-old vessel decorated with hieroglyphics that seemingly indicated the intended contents. Additionally, the interior of the vessel had not been cleaned, leaving the interior unmodified and the residue protected from contamination. The approximately two-and-a-half-inch wide and high clay vessel bears Mayan hieroglyphics, reading “the home of his/her tobacco.” The vessel, part of the large Kislak Collection housed at the Library of Congress, was made around 700 A.D. in the region of the Mirador Basin, in Southern Campeche, Mexico, during the Classic Mayan period. Tobacco use has long been associated with the Mayans, thanks to previously deciphered hieroglyphics and illustrations showing smoking gods and people, but physical evidence of the activity is exceptionally limited, according to the researchers.