Chemical evidence for the use of multiple psychotropic plants in a 1,000-year-old ritual bundle from South America

Melanie J. Miller, Juan Albarracin-Jordan, Christine Moore, José M. Capriles

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Abstract

Over several millennia, various native plant species in South America have been used for their healing and psychoactive properties. Chemical analysis of archaeological artifacts provides an opportunity to study the use of psychoactive plants in the past and to better understand ancient botanical knowledge systems. Liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) was used to analyze organic residues from a ritual bundle, radiocarbon dated to approximately 1,000 C.E., recovered from archaeological excavations in a rock shelter located in the Lípez Altiplano of southwestern Bolivia. The site is located at an elevation of ∼3,900 m above sea level and contains evidence of intermittent human occupations during the last 4,000 years. Chemical traces of bufotenine, dimethyltryptamine, harmine, and cocaine, including its degradation product benzoylecgonine, were identified, suggesting that at least three plants containing these compounds were part of the shamanic paraphernalia dating back 1,000 years ago, the largest number of compounds recovered from a single artifact from this area of the world, to date. This is also a documented case of a ritual bundle containing both harmine and dimethyltryptamine, the two primary ingredients of ayahuasca. The presence of multiple plants that come from disparate and distant ecological areas in South America suggests that hallucinogenic plants moved across significant distances and that an intricate botanical knowledge was intrinsic to pre-Columbian ritual practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11207-11212
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume166
Issue number23
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

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