March 13, 2010

Egyptian mummies with tobacco and cocaine

Someone recently mentioned a documentary called Curse of the Cocaine Mummies. I haven't seen it, but I looked into it online. I gather it appeared on the Discovery Channel in January 1997.

It seems to be legitimate science. Here's the story:

Sky High Egyptians?

Were the Pharoahs Junkies?The problem started in Munich. A forensic pathologist specialising in toxins had been asked to carry out what should have been a series of routine tests on a number of whole and part mummies to determine what drugs had been used by the Egyptians and how widespread such use may have been. It has long been known that the Egyptians had and used a number of narcotics and hallucinogens including mandrake, belladonna and henbane--and lotus, one of the main icons of Egyptian art and religion, was also known to various ancient cultures as a powerful narcotic and hallucinogen.

What came as a bombshell, therefore, was the apparent discovery of both cocaine and tobacco in the mummy of a XXIst Dynasty priestess, as well as a number of other bodies and body parts. Disbelieving this incredible result, the pathologist re-ran her tests only to obtain the same results; she then sent samples from the bodies to other laboratories expecting negative results in which case she could have explained her original results as being due to contamination of the samples tested by her. To her amazement, the results came back the same. She then published her findings, only to come up against the archaeological establishment; the results were fraudulent; the results were the caused by gross negligence due to the contamination of the mummies and/or the samples; anyway, the results were impossible. The accusations of contamination were based on the suggestion that earlier generations of Egyptologists had been heavier smokers than those of today and had been more careless in handling the mummies. Stung by these accusations, the pathologist then took further samples taken from deep inside the mummies and had these analysed as well--still with the same result.
The evidence grows:Deeply skeptical about the results, Dr David of Manchester Museum ran similar tests on a number of mummies in the Manchester collection. To her utter amazement these also produced positive results and showed that the Munich findings were not isolated. In the past couple of years, similar tests have been carried out on on bodies in from places as far apart as China, the middle east, Germany and Austria and ranging in date from around the same date as the mummies in question through to the European Middle Ages. The presence of tobacco (if not cocaine) was found in all these areas. Nor was it found in isolates specimens, for some areas traces were found in every body tested.

The German pathologist originally suggested that an unknown species of tobacco had once grown in Africa and Eurasia and had been used in various ways until it was driven to extinction by overuse. However, no evidence of an unknown species of tobacco has ever been found in Africa or Europe (unless Rameses II's bandages were shown to be made of tobacco fibre from an unknown specie--see below)--and besides that could not account anyway for the presence of cocaine in the mummies.
The author's theory:The significance of the cocaine and tobacco discovery in Egypt (if it is eventually upheld and accepted by the archaeological establishment) is that it effectively blows apart current archaeological theories about the nature and scale of world trade in the ancient world. Bear in mind that, barely 40 years ago, the idea that the Vikings could have crossed the Atlantic to the Americas was considered utterly ludicrous. Here is a suggestion, however, that world trade was being carried on on a regular and organised basis some 2,000 years earlier. Impossible!

The somewhat conservative archaeological establishment is therefore having to wrestle with the idea that international trade on a world scale was regularly being undertaken from at least as early as 1,000 bce. What is NOT being suggested by anyone, however, is that the Egyptians were trading directly across the Atlantic with the Americas--with or without the benefit of warehousing facilities on Atlantis! Rather, it is suggested that trade was being conducted across the Pacific, probably by the Chinese, and that products from the Americas were being traded westwards through south Asia and the Middle East, eventually reaching Egypt.

Leaving aside the trans-pacific trade theory, the other possible explanations for the positive test results are downright fraud or deliberate hoax (which would involve both the German pathologist and Dr David of Manchester and which is NOT being suggested); carelessness in conducting the tests (unlikely but not impossible by a forensic pathologist with experience of working with the police); contamination of some sort yet to be clarified; or that both tobacco and cocaine in some form had once grown in the Old World, or that some other plants with similar chemical constituents had once done so. The archaeological world currently seems to be favouring the last two possible explanations, i.e. contamination or an Old World source of some kind.
Another researcher rebuts the alternate explanations in more detail:

American Drugs in Egyptian Mummies

By S. A. WellsAbstract:

The recent findings of cocaine, nicotine, and hashishin Egyptian mummies by Balabanova et. al. have been criticized on grounds that: contamination of the mummies may have occurred, improper techniques may have been used, chemical decomposition may have produced the compounds in question, recent mummies of drug users were mistakenly evaluated, that no similar cases are known of such compounds in long-dead bodies, and especially that pre-Columbian transoceanic voyages are highly speculative. These criticisms are each discussed in turn. Balabanova et. al. are shown to have used and confirmed their findings with accepted methods. The possibility of the compounds being byproducts of decomposition is shown to be without precedent and highly unlikely. The possibility that the researchers made evaluations from of faked mummies of recent drug users is shown to be highly unlikely in almost all cases. Several additional cases of identified American drugs in mummies are discussed. Additionally, it is shown that significant evidence exists for contact with the Americas in pre-Columbian times. It is determined that the original findings are supported by substantial evidence despite the initial criticisms.
Some of this "significant evidence":“A bibliography of these early contacts is given by John Sorensen (1998) in the first issue of Pre-Columbiana. It is a good example of the kinds of evidence being uncovered by legitimate researchers and institutions. The bibliography is itself a condensation of a two-volume work of these publications and includes titles such as: The world's oldest ship? (showing evidence for a pre-Columbian ship in America) published in Archaeology; Peruvian fabrics (showing very strong similarities between Peru and Asia) published in Anthropological papers of the American Museum of Natural History; Robbing native American cultures: Van Sertima's Afro centricity and the Olmecs (showing evidence for connections between Africa and the Olmecs of Middle America) published in Current Anthropology; Possible Indonesian or Southeast Asian Influences in New World textile industries (showing at least three textile-related inventions that appear in both Indonesia and the New World) published in Indonesian Textiles; and, Genes may link Ancient Eurasians, Native Americans, published in Science.”

“And the list goes on and on--some evidence being better than others--but as a whole it seems pretty much irrefutable. Claims to the contrary seem to be made by individuals with a vested interest in the isolationist position. The evidence, pro and con, when evaluated objectively, would seem without question, to favor the diffusionist position (which claims that pre-Columbian contacts took place).”
Comment:  I haven't read much on pre-Columbian contacts, but I don't have a problem envisioning them. Columbus didn't succeed because he had superior shipbuilding technology. He succeeded because he believed in his theories and stuck with them rather than giving up.

Therefore, it's quite possible to imagine Egyptians, Phoenicians, or Africans--or, later, the Welsh, Irish, or Vikings--sailing to the "New World." I also wouldn't be surprised if a few Native tribes sailed in the opposite direction. If people can invent oceangoing vessels once, they can invent them several times.

This seems more reasonable than the Chinese alternative. Really, merchants transported tobacco and cocaine two-thirds of the way around the world without leaving a trace anywhere in-between? And we didn't have a hint of this global trade in American drugs until 1992?

Could be, but it doesn't seem especially plausible. Occam's Razor tells us the simplest explanation is usually the best one. So I'm guessing someone from the Middle East or Africa reached the Americas first. Direct trade between the Egyptians and Indians would explain the lack of tobacco and cocaine elsewhere.

Indians still were first

None of this is meant to suggest that Paleo-Indians from Asia weren't the hemisphere's first inhabitants. That they didn't build great civilizations of their own without outside help. Things like the Indians' building techniques or the Mesoamerican and Egyptian pyramids probably were just coincidences. If there was a connection, it probably was in the form of barely-remembered legends.

The contacts must've been limited or there would've been more evidence of them. Much of the trade probably was in perishable items such as food and clothing. Other than that, the visitors may have left nothing more than a pictograph here or a cuneiform tablet there.

Even if Indians didn't cross the oceans themselves, they developed tobacco and cocaine and gave them to the world. In particular, they contributed these substances to the Egyptian practice of mummification. So civilization is more complex and multicultural than people think it is, as usual.

For more on the subject, see Kennewick Man, Captain Picard, and Political Correctness and Multicultural Origins of Civilization.


Giishnasi'dood miknoot said...

I have to take issues with Ivan Van Sertima's writings. I have read many of his writings, what I took away from them were that He was supposing that Meso-American cultures owe their existence to Africans having come over here to teach us Natives about culture... even in light of The oldest pyramids dated over here pre-dating the first pyramids in Africa by over 1800 years. Not only that, but also in light of the earliest dated evidence of Incan ceremonial mummification rights pre-dating those of Egypt by a couple thousand years, as well. Let's also not forget that Ivan Van Sertima is the only man to try and sue the US government over rights to whom is allowed to claim having "discovered America"... He's based all of his theories on highly suspect evidence, which has been disproven time time and again. His main supporters also tend to be Afro-Supremecist groups like The Nation of Gods & Earths (aka 5%er's), the Moorish Science Temple, the Nuwabians, the Northeastern Bands of Cherokee Muslims of NYC (also claiming to have brought Islam to America over 1000 years prior to the existence of Islam), etc...

What I would love to see, is academia actually looking the many traditional Native American stories of our people having left Turtle Island, looking to establish trade relations with other cultures on the other side of both oceans. After all, most of the Pacific Northwest Native nations have been trading with the people of what's now Japan, Siberia, China, and the Pacific Islands for much longer than history has accepted.

Rob said...

Van Sertima's claims are only a tiny part of this posting, of course. For more on the subject, see the links below.


The idea that the Olmecs were related to Africans was first suggested by José Melgar, who discovered the first colossal head at Hueyapan (now Tres Zapotes) in 1862 and subsequently published two papers that attributed this head to a "Negro race." The view was espoused in the early 20th century by Leo Wiener and others.

Van Sertima:

The review stated that in claiming African origins for prehistoric Olmec culture (in present-day Mexico), Van Sertima had ignored the work of Central American researchers. The review also stated no evidence of a prehistoric African influence or presence had been found in controlled archaeological excavations in the New World. The reviewers also wrote that Olmec stone heads only superficially appear to be African and did not resemble the Nubian populations which Van Sertima claimed as their originators. They ruled as "fallacious" his claims for the diffusion of pyramid building and mummification. Additionally they accused Van Sertima's cultural outlook of being disparaging to Native American achievements.

Pre-Columbian Africa-Americas contact theories:

There is no compelling evidence that such trans-Atlantic contacts took place, and there are no scientifically accepted artifacts of African provenance in the Americas, nor have any African artifacts ever been found in any controlled archeological excavations in the Americas or in Africa that would suggest contact.

cristala said...

I don't see why we have to debate whose culture is more ancient. My dad is Caddo, my mom born in an Arbereshe village in Sicily. Both of our languages are endangered. Ancient cultures existed with many similarities for eons. Years ago, when I was looking for information on how two famous mediterranean plants Romero and Ruda became so important in curanderismo healing,I came across the Pyramids of Guimar in the Canary islands off the coast of Africa. If you look at these pyramids they are clearly built by Indigenous people of the Americas...

I agree with Vine Deloria (Red Earth White Lies) that scienists' support each others' academic theories as a matter of practice having nothing to do with fact.

I do not believe the land mass separated 200 million years ago, which would really change the conversation regarding trade and migration.

PLEASE check out the Ica Stones of Peru...amazing! images carved on the stones show Indigenous people with dinosaurs, peering through telescopes at comets, and even Greek carving of Asclepious Serpent staff.huh??
if Romero and Ruda could make it this direction 5000 years ago, why not tobacco and coca being traded in the opposite direction?

We have many shared histories especially in my family since both Caddo and Sicilians suffered as slaves under crushing and wicked Spanish rulers.

Cristala said...

One more quick note: when looking at the Pyramid website you will see that there is a museum on the island. Keep in mind that the Canary Islands are SPANISH territory now, and there are the usual dumb items in the museum such as a depiction of "Mayan Sacrifice", but you will also see the sculpted "bearded man" head discovered in Mexico If you dig through the site. The scientists there believe that trade was made via ocean voyage. Again, that is not my belief.

I believe the land mass separation did not occur that long ago. Caddo creation story relates to the great flood were few survived...and there are many stories all over the world about a great flood. I doubt these stores would continue to exist if the flood was 200 million years ago.

cristala said...

better links to see the Ica Stones of Peru:

or just do an image search

scientists claim these stones are a hoax, of course because they cannot explain Indigenous intelligence and vision scientifically

cristala said...

Last post! I promise! LOL..

this site has the best close up pics of the Ica Stones...referring to my original post, there are carvings showing the continents very close together

sorry it's some wierd website,but they have the best pics

Rob said...

I don't think anyone's arguing about which culture is older, Cristala. I'm certainly not.

Archaeologists have determined that the Pyramids of Güímar were built recently:

"The structures have been dated to the 19th century and their original function explained as a byproduct of contemporary agricultural techniques."

The Ica stones are a hoax:

"Cabrera stated Basilio Uschuya, a local farmer, brought the stones to his attention after finding them in a cave (Uschuya was later arrested for selling tourists the stones, and told the police he made them himself). In 1973 Uschuya confirmed that he had forged the stones during an interview with Erich von Däniken, but later recanted that claim during an interview with a German journalist, saying that he had claimed they were a hoax to avoid imprisonment for selling artifacts. In 1977, during the BBC documentary Pathway to the Gods, Uschuya produced a 'genuine' Ica stone with a dentist's drill and claimed to have produced the patina by baking the stone in cow dung.

"In 1998, Spanish investigator Vicente Paris declared after four years of investigation using microphotographs that the stones were a hoax, citing traces of modern paints and abrasives in the engravings, and the crispness of the shallow engravings when stones of great age should have substantial erosion of the surfaces, unless somehow preserved."

I noted this hoax myself in the 2002 posting Creationist Website Says Incas Coexisted with Dinosaurs.

In short, you're not helping any by equating the Egyptian mummies with these examples of pseudo-science. As far as I know, no one's proved the mummies are a hoax.

Bruce J said...

Rob wrote:
"Columbus didn't succeed because he had superior shipbuilding technology. He succeeded because he believed in his theories and stuck with them rather than giving up."

Actually, this is untrue on one, or perhaps two counts:

1) the advances in shipbuilding together and other technological advances of European sailors (esp navigational tools) during the 15th century was key to their being able, finally, to make long ocean voyages... Columbus's was an extension of what the Portuguese had been doing in sailing down the coast of Africa, and eventually around it

2)his 'believing in his theories' seems to imply that you believe the long-time MYTH that Columbus's contemporaries (esp church leaders) thought the world was flat, making his voyage impossible.

Quite the contrary, they ALL believed it round (as nearly everyone with an education had for a couple of millennia),only their estimates of its SIZE were more accurate than Columbus's! Hence they thought the voyage to the Far East too long to be accomplished by sailing west at that time. And they were right! But Columbus 'lucked out' in running into a new unknown/unexpected land mass in between!

As far as claims for other "firsts" (esp claims of earlier, even ancient African trips to the Americas, or more recent ones that the Chinese arrived ca. 1421) not only do they require more certain physical evidence of actual contact; evidence of the seafaring TECHNOLOGY capable of making such long voyages from wherever they sailed is critical to assessing such claims.