Scientific Evidence Suggests Pipe Smoking is Older Than First Thought

Massasoit and governor John Carver smoking a peace pipe

A recent discovery could well have shed some more light on the history of pipe smoking, with historians now believing that Native Americans were smoking tobacco 3,000 years ago!

The Science Magazine states that experts have been reinvestigating an ancient Native American pipe for several years now, and they have made an incredible new discovery. Thanks to advances in technology, new techniques are now available which allow scientists to detect traces of tobacco in a pipe, which had allowed them to date when the first Americans were smoking.

This led to a team of researchers working in Alabama to discover that people have been smoking tobacco much longer than first thought, which could change everything that we first thought we knew about the history of Native Americans.

When Was the Pipe Discovered?

The pipe was first discovered in the 1930s when archaeologists were digging at an ancient Native American site where the Flint and Tennessee rivers met. Those involved in the dig had a bit of a race against time, as the excavation site was going to be submerged due to the rising water levels caused by the building of the Guntersville Dam.

Among the discoveries was an ancient pipe which looked to be in good condition, carved from limestone. The artefact was placed into a plain paper bag and left in the Alabama State Repository, where it lay dormant for some 70 years. However, recent years has seen a lot of research investigating the consumption of tobacco, with those investigating it now able to study dental plaque and pipes in search of traces of plant materials.

Studying the Pipe  

Researchers had been investigating pipes discovered in archaeological sites in recent years in an attempt to understand more about the practices and rituals of Native Americans and had received support from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Pipe tobacco was extremely important in both the religious and social life of Native Americans and had been for centuries. The project had discovered tobacco in pipes dating back some six hundred years.

Some of the experts involved in the project were working out of the Alabama State Repository when they stumbled across an item that had been catalogued as a “medicine tube” – the very same tube that was discovered in Northern Alabama in the 1930s. Upon closer investigation using the new scientific techniques, they found traces of nicotine in the pipe which is a clear biomarker of tobacco.

What Does This Mean for the History of Pipe Smoking?

While this showcases that a band of Native Americans in Northern Alabama had been using pipe tobacco, the researchers were unable to date the limestone pipe. But fortunately, some animal bones had been found next to the pipe, and they were carbon dated. Based on the dating of the bones, the pipes were dated between 1685 to 1530 BC, which suggests the arrival of tobacco in North America was at least a millennium earlier than previously thought.

This determines that tobacco was present, but it does not clarify if it was smoked in the same way as it is today, much in the same way the tobacco seeds that were found in an Ice Age camp in Utah show that they were present some 12,300 years ago, but it does not clarify what they were used for. However, the latest discovery does help us to understand a bit more about the history of the Native Americans in Alabama.

There is also evidence that the Native Americans were growing other plants at the time, and the suggestion is that they were cultivating tobacco for use in religious rituals. If this is correct, it would indicate that farming may have also been developed much earlier than previously thought.

What do you think about these recent discoveries? Let us know in the comments below or on our social media channels!

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