Tobacco: a 12,000-year-old habit begun by hunter-gatherers

Recent findings suggest tobacco use goes back 12,300 years.

Mankind’s obsession with the weed began in our distant past, before agriculture even started, according to new research.

Researchers from the Far Western Anthropological Research Group recently published a new paper that claims the use of tobacco goes back 12,300 years.

It was hitherto believed that indigenous people in eastern North America were thought to be the first users of the substance, which was completely unknown to Europeans, until they arrived in the continent centuries ago.

Natives used tobacco in ceremonial rituals, such as the archetypal peace pipe, or for religious customs.

After years of conquest and European colonisation the plant became a lucrative cash crop, underpinned by slavery, that fired the colonies – and later burgeoning new country – of America’s economy.

The first human chattel labourers arrived in Virginia in 1619 to work backbreaking shifts on tobacco plantations. This is despite the early settlers referring to tobacco as a “noxious weed”.

The new study looked at charred seeds of a variety of wild tobacco that were unearthed by scientists at an archaeological dig in the Great Salt Lake Desert in Utah.

Investigations concluded that these seeds were found within an ancient hearth built by nomadic hunter-gatherers dating back 9,000 years before the previously-thought earliest use of tobacco.

Before the new research, it was thought the oldest use of tobacco, for intoxication, was much later and was evidenced by nicotine residue found in a smoking pipe from modern-day Alabama.

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