Little is known about the medicines the Mayans took. Like many other cultures, they consumed tobacco extensively. But it wasn’t the only substance they smoked. For the first time, another plant was identified in old medical packaging: the Mexican marigold. Washington State University researchers discovered it. It was taken in scraps from 14 miniature Mayan ceramic vessels.
They were originally buried more than 1,000 years ago on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. The containers also contain chemical traces that are present in two types of hardened and dried tobacco. The research team is led by Washington State University’s anthropology postdoc Mario Zimmermann. He believes Mexican marigolds were mixed with tobacco to make smoking more comfortable. The research published in Scientific Reports.
“Tobacco was widely used before and after contact across America. However, the evidence for other plants used for medicinal or religious purposes remains unexplored, “Zimmermann said in a statement.” Our analysis enables us to study drug use in ancient times like never before.
Zimmermann’s work discovers thousands of plant compounds, or metabolites, in waste derived from containers, pipes, bowls, and other archaeological artifacts. The compounds can be used to identify which plants have been consumed. Previously, they were based on the detection of a limited number of biomarkers. For example nicotine, anabasine and caffeine.
Zimmermann helped uncover two of the ceremony ships used for analysis in 2012. They used GPS devices to divide the area into a grid that resembled a chess board. Then they made their way through the thick jungle in search of small hills and other telltale signs of old buildings.
“When you find something really interesting, like an intact container, it gives you a sense of joy,” said Zimmermann. You are usually lucky if you find a jade bead. There are literally tons of ceramic pots out there. However, complete ships are rare and offer great potential for interesting research. ‘
According to Zimmermann, the research team is currently in negotiations with various institutions in Mexico. They want access to older containers in the area that they can inspect for plant debris. They are trying to catalog the drugs the Mayans took. Another project they are currently undertaking is the search for organic residues that are preserved in the dental plaque of ancient human remains.