North America’s Earliest Smokers May Have Helped Launch the Agricultural Revolution

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North America’s Earliest Smokers May Have Helped Launch the Agricultural Revolution Empty North America’s Earliest Smokers May Have Helped Launch the Agricultural Revolution

Post by phildidge on Fri Dec 07, 2018 8:22 pm

As archaeologists push back the dates for the spread of tobacco use, new questions are emerging about trade networks and agriculture

n the beginning, there was smoke. It snaked out of the Andes from the burning leaves of Nicotiana tabacum some 6,000 years ago, spreading across the lands that would come to be known as South America and the Caribbean, until finally reaching the eastern shores of North America. It intermingled with wisps from other plants: kinnickinnick and Datura and passionflower. At first, it meant ceremony. Later, it meant profit. But always the importance of the smoke remained.

Today, archaeologists aren’t just asking which people smoked the pipes and burned the tobacco and carried the seeds from one continent to the next; they’re also considering how smoking reshaped our world.

“We teach in history and geology classes that the origins of agriculture led to the making of the modern world,” says anthropologist Stephen Carmody of Troy University. “The one question that keeps popping up is which types of plants were domesticated first? Plants that would’ve been important for ritual purposes, or plants for food?”

To answer that question and others, Carmody and his colleagues have turned to archaeological sites and old museum collections. They scrape blackened fragments from 3,000-year-old pipes, collect plaque from the teeth of the long-dead, and analyze biomarkers clinging to ancient hairs. With new techniques producing ever more evidence, a clearer picture is slowly emerging from the hazy past.

That the act of smoking is even possible might be a matter of our unique evolution. A 2016 study found that a genetic mutation appearing in humans, but not in Neanderthals, provided us with the unique ability to tolerate the carcinogenic matter of campfires and burnt meat. It’s an ability we’ve been exploiting for millennia, from smoking marijuana in the Middle East to tobacco in the Americas.

For Carmody, the quest to unravel the mysteries of American smoke started with pollen. While still completing his graduate studies, he wanted to know whether traces of smoking plants could be identified from the microscopic remnants of pollen left behind in smoking implements like pipes and bowls (though he ultimately found other biomarkers to be more useful than pollen spores). He started growing traditional crops to learn as much as possible about their life cycles—including tobacco.


Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/americas-earliest-smokers-may-have-helped-launch-agricultural-revolution-180970904/#jtSyR4XyE7SSLHFo.99

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North America’s Earliest Smokers May Have Helped Launch the Agricultural Revolution Empty Re: North America’s Earliest Smokers May Have Helped Launch the Agricultural Revolution

Post by nicko on Sat Dec 08, 2018 6:15 am

Interesting !
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