Did Native Americans Use Hallucinogens? - Chromatography Explores
Jan 29 2021 Read 304 Times
A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has presented the first clear evidence for the use of hallucinogens at a rock art site used by Native Americans. Is has long been debated by archaeologists whether psychedelics were used when ancient cave and rock art was made. The research - Datura quids at Pinwheel Cave, California, provide unambiguous confirmation of the ingestion of hallucinogens at a rock art site – was carried out by scientists from the US and the UK and used liquid chromatography to help determine whether mind-altering substances were taken in the cave where Native American art has been found.
Chumash of California
The cave in question is known as Pinwheel Cave and is a rock art site in Southern California. The art is associated with the Chumash people – a name that means ‘bead maker’ or seashell people’. They are a Native American people who lived in central and southern coastal regions of California, along with a few islands just off the coast. Indigenous people have occupied that area of California for over 11000 years. Today, the Chumash population numbers around 5000 people. But no native Chumash speak their own native language after the last speaker died in 1965.
The rock painting first came to the attention of scientists in the late 1990s when workers at a nature reserve found a pinwheel and insect painted with ochre. This is a reddish material that has been used for millennia all over the world for cave and rock art. It is possible that the pinwheel represents the flower of Datura or Devil’s Trumpets. It is known that Datura were used by the Chumash people in various ceremonies to ward off ghosts, for coming-of-age ceremonies for boys and as a medicine.
Datura for a high?
The researchers behind the paper referenced above wanted to know if the Chumash people used the Pinwheel Cave site for Datura ceremonies. Inside the cave, the team found ‘quids’ stuffed into crevices in the roof. Quids are plants that are chewed for nutrients or stimulants and have been found at other sites. The quids found in Pinwheel Cave were analysed using digital microscopy which revealed that they had been chewed.
So, the team analysed the quids using liquid chromatography. The use of chromatography to analyse samples for drugs is discussed in the article, Evaluation of Mixed-Mode Ion Exchange SPE for the Extraction of Opioids from Human Urine by UHPLC-MS/MS. Chemical analysis confirms that the quids were from Datura. The work confirms the relationship between rock art and psychedelic drugs. But it has also raised further questions regarding the site. Was it for ceremonial purposes or was it a site of everyday communal activities? Work continues.
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