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Ancient Maya Used Tobacco

By January 10, 2012

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Late Classic Maya vessel (~700 AD) from the Kislak Collection of the Library of Congress
A front view of a Late Classic Maya vessel (~700 AD) from the Kislak Collection of the Library of Congress (inventory # 1988.042.00.0010) whose content was analyzed in this work. The container is 58 mm high and 60 mm wide.
Photo Jennifer Loughmiller-Newman
Although the article "Scientists Confirm Tobacco Use by Ancient Mayans Mass Spectrometry Detects First Physical Evidence of Nicotine in Mayan Container" from Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry doesn't say how tobacco was used, nicotine was identified in an ancient Mayan flask from around 700 A.D. from southern Campeche, Mexico. Not only was the flask found to contain tobacco residue but there are Mayan hieroglyphs on the jar identifying it.
yo-'OTOT-ti 'u-MAY, spelling y-otoot 'u-may
'the home of its/his/her tobacco'.
The wording suggests the jar was used to store tobacco leaves. This is the second confirmation of text on the outside of a Mayan jar identifying its contents. The first was a jar that contained one of the elements of cocoa.

See Foods They Didn't Eat in the Classical World and Maya Codex.

Full citation: Dmitri Zagorevski, Jennifer A. Loughmiller-Newman, "The Detection of Nicotine in a Late Mayan Period Flask by GCMS and LCMS Methods," Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry; January 2012, DOI: 10.1002/rcm.5339


January 10, 2012 at 4:12 pm
(1) Scott says:

It’s not that the “Maya used tobacco”… that was well known already. The significance of the find is in the empirical correlation of use (i.e. the residue) and symbolic representation (i.e. the hieroglyphics) through a novel method (LC/GCMS).

This solidifies the glyphic decipherment of ‘u-may and confirms the use of an otherwise ambiguous class of artifact.

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