Emma Brown

Drug use in South American mummies

Supervisors: Andrew Wilson, Timothy Taylor, Ben Stern and Rob Janaway
Funding: AHRC

There is cross cultural evidence that suggests naturally occurring psychoactive compounds have been used by ancient populations for thousands of years.

Archaeological evidence, in the form of snuff trays, depictions in ceramics and plant remains have been recovered from sites in the Central Andes dating back almost 3,000 years. The use of these substances continues today in traditional folk healing practices. However, proving the use of certain substances such as ayahuasca and San Pedro cactus in antiquity is difficult, as it is likely these substances were drunk as decoctions, therefore not identifiable in the archaeological record.

A novel approach to determine the use of these substances in the past is the analysis of hair for drug metabolites. There have been a number of successful analyses of ancient hair for coca and alcohol markers.

The aim of this project is to expand on this research to determine the antiquity of hallucinogen use in Peruvian coastal populations using liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS).

Diachronic and gender-relevant data thus produced could inform reformulation/rejection of hypotheses concerning the social context of plant domestication in the Americas, in which the relative significance of shamanic or 'medicinal' cultigens, and the relationship between gender, status and prestige are moot.

Last Updated:09 June 2009