Scientists determine the composition of ancient yeast drug containers

Front and side view of the Muna-type (AD 750-900) plate flask, with different gear edges. Credit: WSU

Scientists have first discovered a non-tobacco plant in ancient Mayan medicine containers.

Researchers at Washington State University have discovered a Mexican marigold (Tagetes lucida) In the remains of 14 miniature Mayan ceramics.

Ships originally buried more than 1,000 years ago on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico contain two traces of chemical in dried and treated tobacco. Nicotiana tabacum and N. rustica. A research team led by anthropologist postdoc Mario Zimmermann thinks Mexican marigold has been mixed with tobacco to make smoking more enjoyable.

The discovery of the composition of the vessels provides a clearer picture of the ancient Mayan medicinal practices. The study published today (January 15, 2021) Scientific Reports, also paves the way for future research to investigate other psychoactive and non-psychoactive plants smoked, chewed or burned between pre-Mayan and pre-Columbian communities.

Maya Cyst Burial

Cemetery with typical ceramic victims of yeast – a plate covering the head of the deceased and probably a dish with food. Credit: WSU

“Although tobacco has been found to be prevalent in the United States before and after contact, evidence of other plants used for medicinal or religious purposes has largely remained unexplored,” Zimmermann said. “Analytical methods developed in collaboration with the Department of Anthropology and the Institute of Biological Chemistry allow us to investigate the use of drugs in the ancient world as never before.”

The work of Zimmermann and colleagues was made possible by research funded by the NSF, which led to a new metabolomically based analysis method that could detect thousands of plant compounds or metabolites in fossils collected from containers, tubes, bowls, and other archaeological finds. These compounds can then be used to determine which plants are consumed.

Previously, the identification of ancient plant remains was based on the discovery of a limited number of biomarkers such as nicotine, anabasine, cotinine and caffeine.

Archaeologists are digging

PARME workers excavate a cyst burial site in Yucatan, Mérida, Tamanache. Credit: WSU

David Gang, a professor at the Institute of Biological Chemistry at WSU, said, “While the presence of a biomarker like nicotine indicates that tobacco is smoked, it does not tell you what else is being consumed or stored.” is a co-author of the study. “Our approach can tell you not only yes, you found the plant you were interested in, but also what else was consumed.”

Zimmermann helped remove two of the ceremonial vessels used for analysis in the spring of 2012. At the time, he was working on an excavation by the National Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico with a contractor on the outskirts of Merida. found evidence of a Mayan archaeological site while clearing land for a new residential complex.

Zimmermann and a group of archaeologists used GPS equipment to divide the area into a checkerboard-like network. Then they went through the dense jungle, looking for small mounds of ancient buildings and other fairy-tale signs, where the remains of important people such as shamans were found.

“It gives you a sense of joy when you find something really interesting, like a flawless dish,” Zimmermann said. “Normally you are lucky if you find a jade bead. There are literally tons of pottery pieces, but full vessels are few and offer a lot of interesting research potential. ”

Zimmermann said the WSU research team is currently in talks with some institutions in Mexico to gain access to older containers that can analyze plant remains in Mexico. Another project they are currently working on is the examination of organic remains preserved in dental plaque.

“In archeology, we are expanding our boundaries to better explore the deeper relationships between the many psychoactive plants that people consume (and continue to do) around the world,” he said. He is a professor of anthropology at WSU and co-author of the study. “People have many masterful ways to manage, use, manipulate, and prepare local plants and plant mixtures, and archaeologists are beginning to unravel how ancient these applications are.”

References: Mario Zimmermann, Korea J. Brownstein, Luis Pantoja Díaz, Iliana Ancona Aragón, Scott Hutson, Barry Kidder, Shannon Tushingham and David R. Gang, January 15, 2021, Scientific Reports.
DOI: 10.1038 / s41598-021-81158-y

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