Egyptian mummies with tobacco and cocaine
By Newspaper Rock
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:
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:
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.