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Tobacco was first used around 12,000 years ago, according to new archaeological data

It's still unclear how ancient hunter-gatherers used the plant.

Dried tobacco leaves

According to a new study, ancient North Americans began smoking tobacco around 12,500 to 12,000 years ago, roughly 9,000 years before the earliest evidence of the plant being smoked in pipes.

This discovery has superseded the pipe-smoking report as the earliest direct evidence of human tobacco usage anywhere on the planet.

Tobacco (Nicotiana) has arguably had the most significant social and economic impact among the intoxicant plants favored by humans throughout history.

Its historical rise is inextricably linked to Western expansion and commerce, beginning with little encounters between Spanish explorers and indigenous peoples in the Americas.

Tobacco today affects the enjoyment, traditional practice, and health of hundreds of millions of people around the world.

In a recently released scientific report, lead archaeologist Daron Duke from the Far Western Anthropological Research Group in Henderson, Nevada, and colleagues discovered four burnt seeds of wild tobacco plants in a small fireplace during excavations at the Wishbone site in Utah's Great Salt Lake Desert.

Duke's team reported in Nature Human Behavior that the seeds, three of which were radiocarbon dated, likely came from plants picked on foothills or mountains 13 kilometers or more from the Wishbone region.

At the time of its habitation, the site was situated in a vast swamp. Bones of ducks and other waterfowl, a long, entire stone point and another point fractured in half, a bone instrument, and seeds of various edible marsh plants were discovered in and around the fireplace.

Tobacco leaves, stems, and other plant fibers were wrapped into balls and eaten or swallowed, with the accompanying seeds thrown out or discarded.

Source: Nature - Nicotiana seeds and measurements from the Wishbone site. a, Specimen 1-35-98-1. b, Specimen 1-40-98-2. c, Specimen 1-40-98-1. d, Specimen 2-40-98-1

Between 1,000 and 2,000 years ago, Pueblo ancestors in what is now Arizona consumed wild tobacco. The archeologists believe that tobacco smoking cannot be ruled out at the Wishbone site.

The earliest evidence of cultivated tobacco comes from South America, and it dates back barely 8,000 years. The report suggests that different ancient American populations domesticated the plant at different times. The evidence also suggest that certain groups wound up domesticating particular tobacco species, typically alongside food crops.

In my opinion, the use and cultivation of tobacco most likely dates back even further than the 12,000 years. If they were already using tobacco at this time, the knowledge of this had to have been passed on from an even earlier civilization. We may never know, but I do know that it is apparent that even our most distant of ancestors struggled with tobacco use.

There is nothing new under the sun.


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Guest blogger AnThony Legins is host of 'How To Buy The Hood' and 'The Armond & AnThony Show' now streaming on 4BiddenKnowledge TV. He also enjoys writing on topics relating to mindset, money, real estate, finance and motivation. Read more articles and posts by AnThony at: and follow on IG @anthony_legins


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