UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — One thousand years ago, Native Americans in South America used multiple psychotropic plants — possibly simultaneously — to induce hallucinations and altered consciousness, according to an international team of anthropologists.
"We already knew that psychotropics were important in the spiritual and religious activities of the societies of the south-central Andes, but we did not know that these people were using so many different compounds and possibly combining them together," said Jose Capriles, assistant professor of anthropology, Penn State. "This is the largest number of psychoactive substances ever found in a single archaeological assemblage from South America."
The researchers were searching for ancient occupations in the dry rock shelters of the dry Sora River valley in southwestern Bolivia when they found a ritual bundle as part of a human burial. The bundle — composed of a leather bag — contained, among other things, two snuffing tablets used to pulverize psychotropic plants into snuff; a snuffing tube for smoking hallucinogenic plants; and a pouch constructed of three fox snouts.
The team used accelerator mass spectrometry radiocarbon dating to determine the age of the outer leather bag and found that it was about 1,000 years old.
"This period in this location is associated with the disintegration of the Tiwanaku state and the emergence of regional polities," said Capriles.
In addition, the team obtained a tiny scraping from the interior of the fox-snout pouch and analyzed the material using liquid chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry.