People have used tobacco for well over a thousand years. And researchers recently found unique physical evidence of the ancient habit. They detected traces of tobacco in a 1300-year-old Mayan container. The work is in the journal Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry. [Dmitri V. Zagorevski and Jennifer A. Loughmiller-Newman, "The detection of nicotine in a Late Mayan period flask by gas chromatography and liquid chromatography mass spectrometry methods"]
Based on hieroglyphics and images of people smoking, archaeologists assumed that the Mayans used tobacco. In the hope of finding physical remains, the researchers examined the inside of a particular clay flask dating back to the year 700 A.D. Analysis of the flask revealed the presence of nicotine, as well as a few products of nicotine oxidation.
The chemical analysis owes some of its success to a dirty container—because the inside of the flask was not cleaned, the nicotine residue remained uncontaminated. It also helped that the flask had a single purpose, and was not reused to hold multiple products. But the most important aid to this discovery was undoubtedly some Mayan writing on the container. Which roughly translated means: container for tobacco.
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