Experts have found evidence that humans were using tobacco nearly 10,000 years earlier than previously thought.
The remnants of charred tobacco plants some 12,300 years old have been found in an ancient fireplace in the Utah desert that dates back to the time of the very first Americans.
The hunter-gatherer societies that first colonised the Americas seem have have been using tobacco far earlier than archaeologists realised.
The previous oldest earliest evidence of human tobacco use was nicotine residue found in smoking pipes in Alabama that dated back some 3,300 years.
In the fireplace there was evidence that those early Americans were cooking and eating animals, in particular duck, but it was the unexpected evidence of smoking that amazed the team of researchers from the Far Western Anthropological Research Group in Henderson, Nevada.
Daron Duke, a leader of the team, told Live Science that the tobacco seeds were “an unanticipated surprise”.
The researchers ruled out the theories that the tobacco plant might have been present in the ducks’ bellies or been used as firewood before establishing that the demon weed was being used on purpose.
"People in the past were the ultimate botanists and identified the intoxicant values of tobacco quickly upon arriving in the Americas,” said Duke.
He added that he was working with the descendants of those first Americans to find out what oral history about them had been passed down:
"We have been working to get Indigenous input about the meaning and importance of the find," Duke said.
"This will not only help us understand the find for the common scientific reasons, but also help us learn more about its values to the people whose forebears camped at the site and lived throughout the region.
"This is really important for the broader purpose of doing this science at all, so we can understand implications from a diverse set of interests."
Tobacco has helped shape the modern world by forming a major part of America’s economy, and this extraordinary find shows just how long ago the smoking habit began.
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