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Old 04-23-2012, 07:34 PM
coremelt is offline
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Whats the deal with Cocaine and Tobacco traces found on Mummies?


I've heard of this before but Cracked just mentioned it in an article:
http://www.cracked.com/article_19769...are-wrong.html

Whats the latest on this? Originally it was found in 1992, that should be plenty of time to work out if the samples were somehow contaminated or the original scientists are just wrong.

Assuming that it really is Cocaine and Tobacco thats been found on mummies, is it possible (or likely) that perhaps both Cocoa plants and Tobacco plants found their way to Egypt from floating seeds (or birds) and perhaps were kept as a secret only for use by the Royalty? It's possible to imagine small numbers of plants kept in walled gardens that were then lost during the Persian conquest.

Seems far more likely to me than that there was trade between Egypt and South America.
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Old 04-23-2012, 08:28 PM
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The Master speaks, in 2001. His general conclusion, at the time, was that there wasn't nearly enough evidence or a convincing enough model to explain the traces of New World substances, and that it seemed at least as likely that the German scientists were mistaken in their analysis.

ETA: No idea if matters have been clarified since, though.

Last edited by MikeS; 04-23-2012 at 08:29 PM.
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Old 04-23-2012, 08:30 PM
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What about tomb raiders?
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Old 04-23-2012, 08:33 PM
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Originally Posted by MikeS View Post
The Master speaks, in 2001. His general conclusion, at the time, was that there wasn't nearly enough evidence or a convincing enough model to explain the traces of New World substances
Yes was hoping for an update, surely they've done new tests since then, seems like it should be a very straight forward thing to get an answer to one way or another.
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Old 04-23-2012, 08:35 PM
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Seems more likely that casual contamination occurred. If you are smoking while unwrapping and preparing a mummy for display, then you can have tobacco fragments on your hands from packing your pipe, and if you have cocaine solution on your hands from shooting up [think 7% solution...] you can casually contaminate the mummy. Keep in mind that in the early part of the 20th century nobody gave a crap about chemical contamination ... lab science barely existed after all, everybody knew that that particular mummy was from egypt and died over 2000 years previously. Nothing else was particularly important.
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Old 04-23-2012, 08:54 PM
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You'd have to know what it was that was actually found, since the Cracked article isn't reliable.

The biggest problem with it is that it states that "tobacco and cocaine were strictly New World plants". But the fact is that both the tobacco and cocaine genera are Gondwanan, and as such are found in Australia, Southern Africa and India as well as in the Americas.

Tobacco use was widespread amongst Australian Aborigines and Polynesians. We know that at least one species of tobacco, N. fragrans, that is native to Northern Australia and New Guinea was distributed across Melanesia and Polynesia and as far afield as the Marquesas in the Pacific and Namibia in South West Africa. Presumably that distribution occurred because the plant was being cultivated for nicotine or perfume production.

So if all that the tests show is that that the mummies contained nicotine, consider me unsurprised. Since we have fairly solid evidence that tobacco was being grown for nicotine production in Southern Africa and right across the Pacific, it is not really all that shocking that it was traded as far afield as Egypt. It may even have been cultivated there, but since become extinct. Not all that surprising.

Now if DNA analysis had shown that the plant was N. tabacum that might mean something. But the mere presence of nicotine is not surprising since we know that the genus Nicotiana has been growing in Africa for millennia.

Much the same applies to cocaine. There are a couple of hundred species of Erythroxylum, and about 50 of them are found outside South America, from Southern Australia through to India and Southern Africa. All species contain a variety alkaloids and all seem to have been used by local people as drugs. Most of the species contain cocaine So once again, unless genetic tests have confirmed the presence of E. coca, all that we have is evidence that plants from Southern Africa or India were finding their way to Egypt. Not really a staggering revelation. The plants may even have been cultivated in Egypt.

Last edited by Blake; 04-23-2012 at 08:58 PM.
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Old 04-23-2012, 09:00 PM
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Great answer Blake, but then why is that other varieties of plants that contain Nicotine and Tobacco weren't known and cultivated in Europe or the Middle East before contact with the Americas?
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Old 04-23-2012, 09:25 PM
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Originally Posted by coremelt View Post
Great answer Blake, but then why is that other varieties of plants that contain Nicotine and Tobacco weren't known and cultivated in Europe or the Middle East before contact with the Americas?
Presumably for the same reason that they aren't cultivated there today: Europe is too cold and the Middle East is too dry.

Australian tobacco isn't suited to commercial production. It's an ephemeral that lasts just a few of months, reaches about 6 inches at maturity and produces about enough leaves to cover an A4 sheet. It's suitable for growing in Polynesian style house gardens where constant sowing and year-round warmth can maintain enough leaves for casual use, but you'd never be able to grow enough to fill a ship the way you can with American tobacco. So the end result is that it needs to be grown by the people that are using it, and being a tropical plant that's not really possible in Europe without a greenhouse. Of course if you are are an emporer, you would be able to afford to trade for the stuff, but it was never going to be a commercial crop.

The same applies to the Erythroxylum species. Commercial cocaine production involves the use of solvents and distillation and all sorts of processes. The locals of course just chew the leaves. So using bronze age technology you can't readily commercialise cocaine from any source. One of the Australian species would probably survive around the Mediterranean with some care, but it was never traded so it never spread. The Indian and African species are more tropical in distribution. But once again, it's exactly the type of thing that emporers would trade for.

Last edited by Blake; 04-23-2012 at 09:28 PM.
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Old 04-23-2012, 09:35 PM
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Presumably for the same reason that they aren't cultivated there today: Europe is too cold and the Middle East is too dry.
Ill buy the bit about Europe being too cold, but Egypt had a massive irrigation system along the nile and so did other civilizations in the middle east, and many parts of the former Byzantine Empire are plenty warm and wet enough.
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Old 04-23-2012, 09:54 PM
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While parts of the former Byzantine Empire may seem warm to you, they are still not in any sense climatically the same as Namibia or Northern Australia. While they may be very pleasant places to live, they are not frost free the entire year, for example.

Egypt had a massive irrigation system, but it was based almost entirely on seasonal floods and the water was only available in winter. Tobacco is a summer crop.
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Old 04-24-2012, 05:31 AM
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Originally Posted by Blake View Post
Presumably for the same reason that they aren't cultivated there today: Europe is too cold and the Middle East is too dry.
Tobacco is cultivated in Spain and Andorra. Not the biggest of crops, but then, the biggest fields I've seen were in Andorra...
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Old 04-24-2012, 05:48 AM
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Holland had tobacco farms from the 17-th to the twentieth century.

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This study deals with the introduction and economic development of tobacco growing in the 17th and 18th Centuries in the Netherlands. It tries to explain how and why tobacco became firmly established as a cash crop among small peasants in the Dutch provinces of Utrecht and Guelderland.

Last edited by Maastricht; 04-24-2012 at 05:49 AM.
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Old 04-24-2012, 10:59 AM
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You can find tobacco farming going on in certain parts of Wisconsin. It isn't a crop suitable only for mild weather climates.
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Old 04-24-2012, 11:03 AM
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Originally Posted by coremelt View Post
Yes was hoping for an update, surely they've done new tests since then, seems like it should be a very straight forward thing to get an answer to one way or another.
I know the TV series "Weird or What?" did an episode on cocaine mummies in 2010. I can't remember what the result was, other than "inconclusive".
  #15  
Old 04-24-2012, 11:25 AM
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Originally Posted by fiddlesticks View Post
You can find tobacco farming going on in certain parts of Wisconsin. It isn't a crop suitable only for mild weather climates.
I had Canadian relatives who had a tobacco farm in Ontario.


your first reaction is "OK, well, it's in Southern canada. Your following reaction is, when you realize how far north that is, "Oh". There aren't a lot of tobacco farms in, say New Jersey or Pennsylvania.
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Old 04-24-2012, 12:04 PM
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... and that is all American tobacco plants, not the Old-World varities, which as Blake pointed out are not suitable for cultivation in the Middle East or Europe.
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Old 04-24-2012, 12:25 PM
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I'd never heard of Old World or Australian tobacco or coca before! Do you have any cites I could refer to? I'm especially interested in the idea that tobacco was actually used (smoked?) by Aborigines and Polynesians prior to contact with the New World! Was Old World coca also used as a drug/entheogen?
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Old 04-24-2012, 12:53 PM
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According to the following N. frangrans tobacco is “native to America
and naturalized” elswhere:

cite

Assuming it cannot have been naturalized before European discovery
it cannot have been present in ancient Egypt.

I was unable to find any cite yea or nay regarding presence outside South America
of any Erythroxylum species with enough cocaine in it to be be noticeable after
processing by any technique availabe in ancient Egypt. Be nice to have some documention for that.
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Old 04-24-2012, 01:43 PM
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Originally Posted by CalMeacham View Post
There aren't a lot of tobacco farms in, say New Jersey or Pennsylvania.
But a bit further north, is Windsor Connecticut. Home of the famous shade tobacco farms. Around the are North of Hartford, you see vast fields, with huge gauze "shades" above the fields. They are growing the broad leaf wrappers for cigars. Considered by many to be the best wrapper tobacco available.

Of course, not as much acreage is cultivated as once was the case.
  #20  
Old 04-24-2012, 02:26 PM
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Originally Posted by CalMeacham View Post
There aren't a lot of tobacco farms in, say New Jersey or Pennsylvania.
I don't think that's correct. Tobacco has been grown in PA since colonial times. The Amish still grow it:

http://www.cigaraficionado.com/webfe...h-Country_7556

They cite a $22 million annual crop.

And here's the USDA stats on PA (PDF), which lists last year's tobacco crop as being 601 million pounds.

Not enormous, but still significant. You just don't see many dedicated tobacco-only farms in PA. But lots of Central PA farms include tobacco as part of their mix.
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Old 04-24-2012, 02:39 PM
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicotiana_benthamiana
Quote:
The plant was used by peoples of Australia as a stimulant - it contains nicotine and other alkaloids - before the introduction of commercial tobacco (N.tabacum and N.rustica). The indigenous names for it include Tjuntiwari and Muntju.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erythroxylum_australe
Quote:
The leaves contain 0.8% meteloidine, an alkaloid similar to cocaine. All Erythroxylaceae species are prohibited plants in NSW.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicotiana_persica
Cultivated in Iran, but wiki doesn't say how old the species is.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicotiana_africana
Native to Namibia, but wiki doesn't say whether it has enough nicotine to be interesting.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erythroxylum
Lists lots of species, but doesn't have much info on most of them.
  #22  
Old 04-24-2012, 03:30 PM
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Originally Posted by toadspittle View Post
I don't think that's correct. Tobacco has been grown in PA since colonial times. The Amish still grow it:

http://www.cigaraficionado.com/webfe...h-Country_7556

They cite a $22 million annual crop.

And here's the USDA stats on PA (PDF), which lists last year's tobacco crop as being 601 million pounds.

Not enormous, but still significant. You just don't see many dedicated tobacco-only farms in PA. But lots of Central PA farms include tobacco as part of their mix.
It IS correct -- I didn't sayu that you didn't see ANY, just not a lot. My point is that it's more profitavble and easier to grow it further south. But Canadians can't do that, so they grow it as far south as they can. I'm still amazed that it's profitable -- if it were really profitable to grow it that far north, there'd be more vfarms in the Mid-Atlantic states than there are.
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Old 04-24-2012, 08:56 PM
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This page has some more info and states that it it found not only in Northern Australia but also in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Thailand:
http://www.gwannon.com/species/Eriocaulon-australe

It's pretty well established that trade links existed between India and SE Asia more than 2000 years ago, and then between India and Persia and between Persia and Egypt.
eg see here:
http://zeenews.india.com/news/from-t...nd_650356.html

It's pretty awesome to imagine that native "Australian" Cocaine might have been cultivated in Indonesia or Papua New Guinea and then traded 20 or 30 times taking 2 or 3 years to get there before ending up in some Pharaohs hands.
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Old 04-25-2012, 12:31 AM
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Before we write an Australia <-> Egypt narrative, is there a reason to believe they couldn't tell cocaine and meteloidine apart?
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Old 04-25-2012, 01:57 AM
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According to the following N. frangrans tobacco is “native to America and naturalized” elswhere:

cite
That article is about Nothoscordium fragrans, an onion, not Nicotiana fragrans, a tobacco.

And looking around, it appears that Nicotiana fragrans has been subdivided into several species, with Nicotiana fragrans now restricted to New Caledonia and Polynesia, and the Australian and African forms reclassified as separate species. What that is based on and whether it has any bearing on human distribution I have no idea.

Bloody taxonomists. Lose touch for a couple of decades and they go and split every bloody thing that they don't lump.

Anyway, the point is that the remains that there were species of Nicotiana (now apparently called N. africans) in Africa and Indonesia 3, 000 years ago. So the presence of nicotine in mummies doesn't require any Old World connection.

Quote:
I was unable to find any cite yea or nay regarding presence outside South America of any Erythroxylum species with enough cocaine in it to be be noticeable after processing by any technique availabe in ancient Egypt. Be nice to have some documention for that.
I can't find anything to that effect, but a lot of these aren't analysed and what had been analysed is behind paywalls.

The main point is that that closely related species were available to Egypt,and without knowing exactly what tests were done we can't know what exactly they were testing for. The Old World Erythroxylum species certainly contain plenty of psychoactive tropanes, and many "drug tests" will return those as a positive cocaine result.


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Originally Posted by coremelt View Post
This page has some more info and states that it it found not only in Northern Australia but also in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Thailand:
http://www.gwannon.com/species/Eriocaulon-australe
That page is about Eriocaulon australe, not Erythroxylon australe. Very different plants. The Erythroxylon is confined to Australia and New guinea. Not that it matters much. There are at least a dozen Erythroxylon species indigenous to areas from Southern Australia and Central India.

The point being that this is a Gondwanan genus, not one restricted to the Old World. And its members seem to have been used as drugs everywhere they grew. A drug finding its way form India to Egypt wouldn't be very surprising at all since, as you note, those trade routes have existed for millennia.
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Old 04-25-2012, 03:33 AM
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Before we write an Australia <-> Egypt narrative, is there a reason to believe they couldn't tell cocaine and meteloidine apart?
I'm suggesting at most an Indonesian-Egypt trade route which is far more plausible.

The mainstream response to the finding is according to Wiki to concentrate on old world sources of Tobacco and Cocaine which I guess means the tests are not specific enough to narrow down exactly which species the traces came from.

theres an indepth article here (scroll down)
http://www.thehallofmaat.com/modules...article&sid=45

Last edited by coremelt; 04-25-2012 at 03:36 AM.
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Old 04-25-2012, 04:26 AM
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[QUOTE=coremelt;15001342]I'm suggesting at most an Indonesian-Egypt trade route which is far more plausible.

I agree, but reading the link you provided, even that seems overly elaborate.

Quote:
theres an indepth article here (scroll down)
http://www.thehallofmaat.com/modules...article&sid=45
A few interesting quotes:

Quote:
Cocaine is present also in other Erythroxylum species native to South Africa, Madagascar and Mauritius in amounts less than those found in Erythroxylum coca.
So there are known sources of cocaine on the same freakin' continent as the mummies. Yet for some reason people want to ascribe the presence of cocaine in the mummies to New World trade.

Ockham's Razor should be wielded with great force here. If a source of cocaine exists in regions with which the Egyptians were known to have trade routes, we should assume that was the source fo the cocaine to which the Egyptians had access.

Invoking trans-Atlantic trade seems plain silly in light of this information.

Quote:
Pre-Christian pipes made from clay, wood, bronze and iron have been found in Switzerland, France and Germany. "Bauerntabak", literally farmers tobacco, was described in several European herbals written in the sixteenth century and was classified, along with Nicotiana tabacum as either a type of “bilsenkraut” or as a kind of Hyoscyamus. From the seventeenth century farmers tobacco became known as Nicotiana rustica and was erroneously accepted as being of American origin when wild and domesticated varieties were already known in Europe prior to Columbus. Farmers tobacco may have had Asiatic origins, Conrad Gesner considered in 1561 that it had been imported from Syria and it has also been maintained that the Persians were also aware of this type of tobacco. Nicotiana fruticosa is also known to grow in regions of China, where it was domesticated and was known by its Chinese names “cay-thüóc-än” and “yen-yé”.

Additionally a species of tobacco, Nicotiana africana, has recently been identified as indigenous to Namibia in South West Africa. It is therefore not unreasonable to suspect that other species of tobacco may have grown in Egypt, or in the surrounding regions, and that this could account for the high amounts of nicotine identified in these Egyptian mummies.
So we know that local species of tobacco were used in both Europe and Asia in pre-European times, and Egypt was collecting tribute Asia and from places within a hundred and fifty miles of Europe. And tobacco grew on the same continent as Egypt at the time.

Once again, Ockham's razor comes into play.

I really don't see why anyone would consider the presence of cocaine or nicotine to be evidence of New World trade. It's a totally unwarranted assumption.
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Old 04-25-2012, 05:22 AM
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I don't think that's correct. Tobacco has been grown in PA since colonial times…

And here's the USDA stats on PA (PDF), which lists last year's tobacco crop as being 601 million pounds.

Not enormous, but still significant.
Yep. According to a 2003 report from the Congressional Research Service, Pennsylvania ranks ninth in tobacco farm acreage, putting it in about the middle of the pack for tobacco-producing states.
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Old 04-25-2012, 06:47 AM
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I really don't see why anyone would consider the presence of cocaine or nicotine to be evidence of New World trade. It's a totally unwarranted assumption.
I agree, I never knew there was South East asian plants with Cocaine like alkaloids and I never knew there was African Tobacco plants. Once again the dope fights ignorance. Thanks to Blake for his extremely specific responses.

Personally I find what it reveals about the trade network from Egypt to Africa and SE Asia to be more interesting than any potential egyptians in the new world scenario.
BTW that article also contains a fascinating factoid that some types of Gems found only in Afghanistan were found in Egyptian tombs, so the trade network was at the very least from Egypt to Afghanistan.
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