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Mind-Altering Substances Found in Mummies

In a 2008 study, scientists found the first direct evidence of psychoactive drug use in the ancient Andes. The finding confirms that the Tiwanaku used mind-altering substances, and hints that the civilization relied on far-reaching trade networks to obtain the drugs.

The researchers discovered a compound called harmine in the hair of an adult male and a one-year-old baby, who both date to sometime between A.D. 800 and 1200. Harmine can help humans absorb hallucinogens and may be a powerful antidepressant.

Archaeologists had found indications the Tiwanaku used mild-altering substances prior to this discovery-hundreds of excavated Tiwanaku tombs have contained elaborately decorated snuffing kits. Archaeologists think these trays and tubes were used to inhale herbs, perhaps ceremonially. Some snuff kits have been found bearing powder from the vilca tree, whose seeds are rich in hallucinogens. Also, x-rays of Tiwanaku skulls have in many cases revealed nasal damage that was likely caused by frequent sniffing.

Photograph by:
  • Kenneth Garrett/National Geographic Creative