Cave maps reveal ‘smoking chamber’ where Neanderthals used tobacco

Written by By Staff Writer You may have heard scientists claim that it was not just plant domestication that carried the seeds of drug use into the modern world. According to a new paper,…

Cave maps reveal 'smoking chamber' where Neanderthals used tobacco

Written by By Staff Writer

You may have heard scientists claim that it was not just plant domestication that carried the seeds of drug use into the modern world. According to a new paper, they believe it was the smoke of tobacco that ensured people — Homo sapiens — could sustain their lives.

Published in the journal Scientific Reports , this latest research further documents the potential links between humans, tobacco and the behavioral changes that occurred in our culture, and therefore in our society.

The smoking behaviors of Neanderthals (Tomboyans) and Homo sapiens (Sapiens) remain a matter of debate. Credit: Anthony Martial/Corbis via Getty Images

The paper explains that throughout modern civilization, tobacco has been a “paramount innovation” for many families, allowing for food, clothing and shelter.

This has been clear to archaeologists who have uncovered glacial deposits in areas such as China and Siberia where large communities date back more than 10,000 years.

They have found important signs of tobacco use in these glacial sites including a form of tar known as chitin residue on the walls and floors. However, until now they were not certain how the material got there.

Researchers have, until now, been unsure how this tobacco residue got to glacial sites. Credit: pugsley/Creative Commons/Flickr

At La Pocitina Cave in the Italian Alps, the authors used CT scanning and an infrared laser to observe and study the environment where tobacco would have been used. They focused on a smoke-extraction chamber where they found the traces of tobacco on the walls.

“Such smoking chamber is similar to the one which is in use today,” the researchers said. “The smoke chamber contains a chamber that has the boundaries of the smokestack along the walls — that is, the cross section and access to the smoke chamber. The chamber is now closed and badly damaged.”

First step towards cannabis cultivation

By scouring glacial deposits in the Swiss Alps, the researchers discovered the traces of tobacco — trace residues of fat — from the vast majority of their sample. Credit: Karen Carpenter/Creative Commons/Flickr

This suggests that the ash left behind when tobacco is cut, melted or processed into smoke is eventually deposited in smokestacks and chambers. Smoking may then be treated as an “operational practice” by early societies, and traces of the smoke can be found in structures of different sizes.

A hallmark of global human history

Such findings are a part of a growing body of research into human technology and development, and point to some of the ways in which human societies have adapted to a changing environment.

“The phenomenon of tobacco smoking poses great scientific challenges for the study of human systems and patterns of development,” the researchers concluded.

“Perhaps it is not surprising that not only human society, but also many other human societies have evolved, with immense technological accomplishments, in spite of the intervening antagonism between human societies and natural environments.”

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