Ancient Use of Psychoactive Plants in Pre-Columbian South America: Chemical Evidence from a Ritual Bundle from Southwestern Bolivia

Lecture | April 25 | 6-7:30 p.m. |  Hearst Museum of Anthropology

 Melanie Miller, University of Otago

 Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology

Humans have utilized various substances with psychotropic properties for millennia, and while evidence for some of these substances can be traced through historical and archaeological sources, others have been elusive. Recent advances in chemical techniques have enabled archaeologists to examine residues from archaeological materials in order to identify specific ingredients, including plants with psychoactive compounds. Excavations at a cave site in southwestern Bolivia revealed a unique ritual bundle dated to 1000-years-ago, which included multiple artifacts associated with snuffing. This talk by Dr. Melanie Miller will discuss the chemical techniques used and their resulting discoveries, as well as the the implications they have for understanding the use of psychotropic substances in an ancient context.

About the speaker:

Melanie Miller (PhD UC Berkeley 2016) is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Anatomy at the University of Otago in New Zealand. As a bioarchaeologist she studies human remains from archaeological contexts to understand human diet, nutrition, activity, health, and disease in the past. Trained in bioarchaeology and archaeological chemistry methods, Melanie's primary research focuses on reconstructing ancient dietary patterns in populations from South America (Colombia, Bolivia, Peru) and China. Her collaborative projects have included examining organic residues recovered from unique artifacts to search for unusual substances such as compounds from hallucinogenic plants. The research she is presenting at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum is from a collaborative study with colleagues Dr. Jose Capriles (Pennsylvania State University), Dr. Juan Albarracin-Jordan (Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, La Paz Bolivia), and Dr. Christine Moore (Immunalysis Corporation).