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  1. #1

    American Drugs in Egyptian Mummies

    This is one of the most intriging enigmas that I have seen in some time. In a nut shell, a well respected german toxicologist, Dr. Svetla Balabanova, conducted drug tests on ancient egyptian mummies and discovered factual evidence of cocaine, hashish and nicotine use. Not believing her results herself, she sent samples to three other labs for testing (see link at bottom of this post)...and the results confirmed her original finds. During the time of the Pharohs, cocaine and nicotine were only growing in plants located in the Americas. So, how in the world did it get into the hands...not to mention the bodies...of the Egyptians? There can be only one way: the Egyptians travelled there by ship, thousands of years before Columbus did.

    Needless to say, the consequences and ramifications for various fields of science is mindblowing and her discovery was attacked by other scientists after she published her findings. As the link below states, science is a conservative world, although perhaps not in all fields.

    What troubles me a bit is that since Dr. Balabanova made the discovery, it really seems to have disappeared from the radar screens. But it is still very interesting, and it makes me wonder about the possibility of Egyptian influence in the building of the Mesoamerican pyramids for example. Could the Egyptians have traded technological knowhow for coke and smokes? Perhaps they just did what Marco Polo did and brought back the exotic substances as treasure from the new world. You would figure that there would be archiological evidence, in the form of hieroglyphics, proclaiming such a massive least for the first voyages.

    Another transcript taken from a video which interviewed Dr. Balabanova can be read here.
    Last edited by Mike C; 06-12-2007 at 10:44 PM.
    "So I have stayed as I am, without regret, seperated from the normal human condition." Guy Sajer

  2. #2
    Interesting find Mike. I researched this in grad. school. The field is staunchly opposed to the notion of seafaring/colonizing Egyptians although there's quite a bit of evidence supporting it, not just there but throughout the mediterannean islands. You might want to look into the Olmec civilization too. Fascinating stuff.

  3. #3
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    May 2004
    Dudes.... Didn't you watch Alien vs Preditor?

    Nice find though.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Mike C
    During the time of the Pharohs, cocaine and nicotine were only growing in plants located in the Americas. [/URL]
    Perhaps this is not true.

  5. #5
    This case is a very interesting case of bad assumptions and jumping to conclusions. The Balabnova paper was a one-page article in 1992. They had tested 9 mummies. All but one tested positive for nicotine and all had hashish and cocaine. The concentrations found were of the level that suggested medicinal use rather than abuse. The study of course raised a fuss because tobacco is thought to be the major source of nicotine and tobacco was not available in Europe until the mid-1550 after America was discovered. So, many groups, including some scholarly ones, are suggesting that the Egyptians may have pre-Columbian contacts with the Americas.

    This is the first time that I have heard of this and I thought that I might document how I approached this problem.

    First, I looked up the information concerning the original study, assessed whether this question has merit. I concluded after reading the following article, that it was worthwhile going on ahead and looking for more information.
    Abstract: The recent findings of cocaine, nicotine, and hashish in Egyptian mummies by Balabanova et. al. have been criticized on grounds that: contamination of the mummies may have occurred, improper techniques may have been used, chemical decomposition may have produced the compounds in question, recent mummies of drug users were mistakenly evaluated, that no similar cases are known of such compounds in long-dead bodies, and especially that pre-Columbian transoceanic voyages are highly speculative. These criticisms are each discussed in turn. Balabanova et. al. are shown to have used and confirmed their findings with accepted methods. The possibility of the compounds being byproducts of decomposition is shown to be without precedent and highly unlikely. The possibility that the researchers made evaluations from of faked mummies of recent drug users is shown to be highly unlikely in almost all cases. Several additional cases of identified American drugs in mummies are discussed. Additionally, it is shown that significant evidence exists for contact with the Americas in pre-Columbian times. It is determined that the original findings are supported by substantial evidence despite the initial criticisms.
    Second, I asked why more similar findings have not been reported by other groups. After all, Balabanova reported this back in 1991. As it turns out, several groups have reported finding cocaine metabolites, nicotine, and hashish in Peruvian and Egyptian mummies. Nerlich, et al., 1995 had reported cocaine, nicotine, and hashish in an Egyptian mummy dating from 950 BC. The highest concentrations of nicotine and cocaine were in the mummy's stomach. The hashish was in the lungs. B

    Third, what is the likelihood that it is a contaminant. It turns out that it is possible. Wischmann, et al. (2003) had an interesting paper in which they examined skeletal structures of two Bronze Age men and found traces of nicotine but no cotinine (a major metabolic byproduct of nicotine. They suggest that the sample was exposed to tobacco smoke. So, they actually tested this by taking a Bronze Age bone sample that did not have any nicotine and then exposed it to environmental tobacco smoke for six weeks. They found that this resulted in nicotine contamination of the samples. They concluded that it is important to measure the metabolites of nicotine if one wants to conclude that nicotine was being used by the mummies.

    Fourth, is it possible that nicotine, cocaine, and hashish are available in plants from Africa and Middle East. Well, of course hashish is and was readily available from hemp, and was the favorite drug of the hashishin's in Iraq. It is not an “American” plant. Cannabis was used by the Chinese several thousands of years ago (Source). Likewise, there are cocaine producing plants, called erthyroxylum, that are indigenous to Africa, India, and Asia. The Egyptians had plants that may be extinct today, including a variety of lilies. Thus, neither of these are absolutely restricted to the Americas. The analyses was for THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient of marijuana intoxication. Nicotine is present in tobacco of course and tobacco is indeed an American plant that was brought back to Europe in the 1500's. Nicotine is also present in tomato, potato, eggplant, and green pepper.


  6. #6
    that's all circumstantial. none of that proves that there wasn't contact.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by antiquity
    that's all circumstantial. none of that proves that there wasn't contact.
    Antiquity, you are right. That is what is so fascinating about historical studies for me. Without prospective studies, one cannot "prove" anything. Historical studies are by necessity retrospective and correlative. If you are determiend in your beliefs, there is nothing that can disprove what you believe. Wise.

  8. #8
    the chemicals found in the mummies bodies may point to contact with the new world and they may not. my point was that what you provided doesn't disprove that there was no contact. it's not a matter of wishful thinking, the evidence is there, it simply boils down to interpretation.

  9. #9
    I hope no one is offended that I join to practice necromancy, and resurrect a thread from 2007.

    I have a research interest and am looking to pick the brains of anyone familiar with levels in drug tests, cocaine-like plants of the Old World, or any possible evidence of their ingestion or trade.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wise Young View Post
    The concentrations found were of the level that suggested medicinal use rather than abuse.
    I have the original Balabanova paper, and some additional literature both before and after her team did its analysis, but these concentrations are something I can't quite get a handle on. I take it that there are people here relatively familiar with pharmacology and what the levels in her paper may or may not indicate about the use of any of these substances.

    There are at least four possible ways the tobacco/nicotine got into/onto the mummies:

    1) Part of ancient wrapping/preservation technique. (Tobacco fibers have in fact been observed in the bandages.)
    2) 19th century pesticide or some similarly hypothetical thought experiment.
    3) The mummies ingested the tobacco by eating or inhalation while alive. (This also seems to be supported by at least one report of removed stomach contents, though I can't find any original studies on Layer-Lescot's 1976 analyses.)
    4) Contamination by modern smoking near the mummies, which of course would not explain the other observations, but might still contaminate the numbers anyway if it occurred in addition to the rest.

    I also know nothing of how much these levels might decay over time.

    For whatever it's worth, the earliest discovery of tobacco on these mummies was reported, as far as I know, by a Dr. Layer-Lescot around 1976, and she made her identification of the plant at least partially by some kind of visual analysis on fibers left on the wrappings which she viewed under a microscope, rather than depending on a chemical test for nicotine. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that a DNA test could even isolate the specific variety of the plant.

    There is at least one variety of tobacco native to Africa, but it's on isolated mountains in the Namib, across the Sahara and Congo from Egypt, and might as well have been on another continent for how formidable any trade route would have been. Botanists aren't sure how a variety of tobacco made it to the mountains of the Namib in the first place, though it has been tested and does in fact contain nicotine. Other varieties of tobacco could conceivably have come from Australia or the South Pacific via overland trade routes, or, of course, transatlantic voyages on reed craft ? la Thor Heyerdahl.

    Even if the tobacco did come from southern Africa, any overland trade route would have been at least as difficult and lengthy as a trade route by sea. For the Egyptians to have been traveling along the coast of Africa all the way to Namibia for tobacco would really not be that much less impressive than just crossing the Atlantic in four weeks using the trade winds, and arguably either of those would have been easier than crossing the Sahara and then the Congo by land to reach Namibia, especially when one considers the nearly perpetual tribal warfare and political chaos that has been subsaharan Africa for as long as it has been known historically. The trade route across Asia, which could have brought Australian or South Pacific varieties of tobacco, would have also been an impressive feat, though probably not carried out by the Egyptians themselves.

    Layer-Lescot had access to these mummies as part of an agreement between the governments of France and Egypt. Unfortunately, I don't have her original study and I haven't seen that she even published one (though I can read French if one does exist). It looks like the research that her and her colleagues did may have gotten relatively little attention, probably moreso from newspapers articles than the stuffy response she received from fellow academics, who were probably as surprised as she was at the conception that historians and archaeologists might also make mistakes.

    Likewise, there are cocaine producing plants, called erthyroxylum, that are indigenous to Africa, India, and Asia.
    This is something I need more information about. The scientific name you've just thrown out will help me narrow my searches, but if there were cocaine-like drugs being used by royalty in ancient times then that in itself would be a major discovery, even without the confirmation of pre-Columbian contacts. The use of lotus by the Greeks, smoking marijuana and hash, opium, ingesting at least two varieties of magic mushrooms, etc., are already known. Trading a cocaine-like plant would be something I've not come across before.

    And as someone who actually studied history rather than sciences or medicine, I can tell you guys that historians and archaeologists aren't as solid on the whole "Columbus was first" or even "the Vikings were first" as many non-historians would likely believe. The university textbooks now mention the possibilities of Chinese contact on the West Coast, and others that I don't recall off hand. The land-bridge theory not only has the Solutrean hypothesis to deal with but another very serious challenge from evidence of island-hopping migrations across the Pacific to the west coasts of both North and South America. These are all ongoing areas of research. Think of Columbus as "disclosure." He was more political than any actual "first."

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