Marigold found with tobacco in Maya vessels

Traces of Mexican marigold (Tagetes lucida) have been discovered along with tobacco residue in Maya ceramic vessels. This is the first time a non-tobacco ingredient has been identified in a Maya tobacco container, and the first archaeological evidence that marigold was used in mind-altering plant mixtures.

Spanish chroniclers recorded the smoking of herbal blends among the Maya and Nahua, and dried marigold, on its own and mixed with tobacco, is still smoked today in Mexico. Maya smoking devices were usually organic materials like corn husks (business idea: tamale blunts) which obviously have not survived, but smoking was not the only way indigenous Mesoamericans took tobacco. It was also chewed, drunk, snuffed and administered via enema.

Nicotine residues have been found in small vessels indicating they were used to hold fresh/dried tobacco rather than the products of tobacco consumption (like spit from chaw, for example). The new study analyzed the organic remains inside 14 miniature vessels of four different forms ranging in date from 250-900 A.D. Twelve of the containers were excavated at various salvage digs over the past 15 years in Mérida, Yucatan. Two were unearthed in 2016 at the archaeological site of Ucanha.

Samples were drawn from the vessels and compared with ones in museum collections. The archaeological residues were compared to modern extracts of eight plants — two species of tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum and N. rustica) and six other plants known from historic and ethnographic records to have been used in Mesoamerica for their psychoactive properties, including Mexican marigold. This is only the second study to deploy metabolomics, the study of small molecules known as metabolites found inside cells and tissues, to ancient residues, and it blazes an exciting new trail in archaeology.

“While it has been established that tobacco was commonly used throughout the Americas before and after contact, evidence of other plants used for medicinal or religious purposes has remained largely unexplored,” [Washington State University researcher Mario] Zimmermann said. “The analysis methods developed in collaboration between the Department of Anthropology and the Institute of Biological Chemistry give us the ability to investigate drug use in the ancient world like never before.”

Zimmermann and colleagues’ work was made possible by NSF-funded research which led to a new metabolomics-based analysis method that can detect thousands of plant compounds or metabolites in residue collected from containers, pipes, bowls and other archaeological artifacts. The compounds can then be used to identify which plants were consumed.

Previously, the identification of ancient plant residues relied on the detection of a limited number of biomarkers, such as nicotine, anabasine, cotinine and caffeine.

“The issue with this is that while the presence of a biomarker like nicotine shows tobacco was smoked, it doesn’t tell you what else was consumed or stored in the artifact,” said David Gang, a professor in WSU’s Institute of Biological Chemistry and a co-author of the study. “Our approach not only tells you, yes, you found the plant you’re interested in, but it also can tell you what else was being consumed.”

The study has been published in the journal Scientific Reports and can be read in its entirety here.

6 thoughts on “Marigold found with tobacco in Maya vessels

  1. I wandered lonely as a cloud
    That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
    When all at once I saw a crowd,
    A host of golden daffodils;
    Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
    Fluttering and dancing in the breeze. …


    Source: William Wordsworth (1802) — OK, that’s only Monocotyledons (and you probably shouldn’t inhale them!!!), but it’s worth a tune any time: :boogie:

  2. “Organic gardeners have used marigold plantings in with their vegetables plants to ward off bugs for years.”

    Organic gardeners said the marigolds were for bugs, anyway. 😎

  3. Organic gardeners said the marigolds were for bugs, anyway

    Maya smoking devices were usually organic materials like corn husks … which obviously have not survived

    And we are unlikely ever to find the evidence 😉

  4. ONE MORE!! — (In Bavarian: “Nu ana”): This time, “THE LAST EDELWEISS” — (with Nick from “Franz Ferdinand”, and machine translated lyrics):


    (chorus):”Never the root and the bulb!”
    Says the Alpine Flower Primer.
    “And in no more than six pieces
    Is the flowering glory to be plucked!”

    Hah! the man who invented this
    And with his expertise
    Such a guide wrote
    Loves no girl like I love!

    Six hundred each I’ll dig up!
    Drag them to your house
    Break right back into it
    And pick another fifty!

    Silver thistles, snowdrops
    I’ll stuff them in my satchel,
    Swamp heartleaf and marsh orchid
    Stowed away in my trouser sack.


    What I find, I uproot!
    I pluck them all out!
    From the slopes, from the ice
    Every last edelweiss

    Indomitable burns in me
    A feverish greed
    Blind selfishness blazes
    Hotter than the plant protection.
    Asters, lilies, and in addition
    Buckets of lady’s slipper,
    Man’s Trefoil and Arnica
    I weed out with skin and hair.

    Pluck the carnations from the fields,
    Take the violets from the woods,
    Tear in unbridled sweat
    Primroses from the limestone cracks.
    Saxifrage, sky herald and
    Heavily protected Turk’s-bunch,
    Delicate spring anemones
    That dwell in the peat.

    Rare mountain timothy,
    Metre-high alpine roses,
    Valley star, saffron and lily of the valley,
    Fresh pasque flower shoots.
    Chamomile and columbine
    I go out in a frenzy!
    Rock aurel, wolfsbane
    I slaughter in a love frenzy!

    What I find, I uproot!
    I’ll pluck them all out!
    From the slopes, from the ice
    Down to the last edelweiss

    “Yet!” I cry with a wild look,
    “More!” and with eagerness I bend
    In the field of alpine poppies
    A hundred yellow heads.

    Steeply uphill and without rest
    I climb the daphne!
    Without rest and steeply uphill
    Into the blue gentian!

    With the blood rushing
    I climb up to four thousand meters
    Where I from the peaks white
    Glacier cock’s feet.

    What I find I root out!
    I pluck them all out!
    From the slopes, from the ice
    Down to the last edelweiss!



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