The Nez Perce Indians grew and smoked tobacco long before white merchants and settlers arrived in the Pacific Northwest, a recent Washington State University study found
Researching stone tubes for nicotine residues revealed that the Nez Perce cultivated wild tobacco tribes 1,200 years ago in the warm, dry climate along the Snake River.
The research represents the longest uninterrupted biomolecular record of "tobacco smoking from a single region in the world, the authors of the study wrote in an article published Monday
The findings shook previous theories that Northwestern Native Americans only used other plants – such as about Kinnikinnick – smoked before traders introduced tobacco from the eastern US around 1
"The dance of humanity with this mighty plant is much older than the 140 (years) since the production of the first mass-marketed cigarettes.
Nicotine addiction goes back thousands of years, the researchers say, and scientists are only just starting to understand the history of tobacco and its "co-evolutionary relationship with humans."
Research could have an impact on Native American Smoking Cessation Programs.
Approximately 34 percent of American Indians and Alaska Indigenous people aged 18 years and older smoke cigarettes – the highest prevalence among racial and ethnic groups in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention high rates of smoking-related illnesses, including lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Although smoking plays a long-term role in tribal culture and ceremonial use, the varieties smoked by Nez Perce's ancestors contained lower nicotine levels, the study said. According to the study, tobacco was consumed in limited quantities of selected M members of the community instead of being used for recreation.
Shannon Tushingham, assistant professor of anthropology and director of the WSU Museum of Anthropology, is the lead author of the study. During an earlier excavation of plank houses in Northern California, she came across two soapstone pipes. Tushingham began to wonder what the old inhabitants of the houses were smoking and whether tobacco was part of the mix.
"Normally we find only artefacts in archeology, things you do not care about much," she said in a press release. "But the information you can get from them on a molecular level is phenomenal."
Tushingham worked with another WSU professor, David Gang of the Institute of Biological Chemistry, to analyze tubes and pipe fragments at the WSU Museum of Anthropology. Working with Nez Perce tribesmen, they used mass spectrometry to analyze a dozen artefacts from locations along the Columbia and Snake rivers in tribal tribal lands. None of the tubes or fragments were damaged during the study.
Nicotine was present on pipes made before and after Euro-American contact. In this area native tobacco (Nicotiana attenuata) is sometimes called coyote tobacco. It's a small, scrubby species that grows in sandy river bars. A second species of Northwest Tobacco (Nicotiana quadrivalvus) had a natural distribution in southwestern Oregon and Northern California.
Since tobacco needed to be grown in the northwest, Tushingham said it was obvious that Indians cultivated it. But new, higher nicotine stocks of tobacco came on trade routes.
The tobacco Euro-Americans used for trade came from the Andes of South America, where the domestication process began 8,000 years ago. Genetic selection resulted in plants with larger leaves and higher nicotine content than wild varieties.
These tobaccos spread to the Caribbean – the natives of the Bahamas brought Columbus into the tobacco. Tobacco plantations originated in the Caribbean and eastern US in the 16th century, and tobacco became a global commodity in the 17th century.
"Explorers, missionaries, and traders soon discovered that tobacco was highly prized by indigenous people, where tobacco was hard to get and difficult to grow," the research article said.
Dried tobacco was stronger than wild varieties and came in easily transportable bundles called "twists" or "candles". Like the Hudson Bay Co. Its explorers spread through the northwest, the use of imported tobacco outdated native varieties among the trunks.
"Few realize the extent to which domesticated strains of commercial tobacco have replaced native species of tobacco and other smoke plants," the research said.
The shift from traditional smoking of native tobaccos and other crops to commercial tobaccos has "significant detrimental effects on tribal culture and health, according to the study.
To understand the difference between native tobaccos understanding in traditional ceremonies and the commercially produced product Tribal members could help quit smoking.