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Thread: American Drugs in Egyptian Mummies

  1. #1
    Senior Member Mike C's Avatar
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    Jul 2001

    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
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    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
    Quote Originally Posted by antiquity
    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.

    There is a esthetic principle in science. It is called parsimony. In general usage, the term suggests economy; frugality; illiberality; covetousness; closeness; stinginess. However, in science, to be parsimonious is to be virtuous. In science, the simpler explanations are always better than the complex ones. By complexity, I mean not only the explanation itself but the implications of the explanation. Parsimonious explanations are the most desirable (although not always correct because Nature is not always parsimonious).

    It is important to verify the findings, the facts, and the implications of an explanation. When one encounters a surprising finding, such as the presence of cocaine, hashish, and nicotine in Egyptian mummies, one first has to rule out the possibility of measurement error. Measurement error was ruled out by subsequent studies that measured cotinine, a metabolite of nicotine. Cotinine levels were highest in the liver and intestines while the tetrahydrocannabinol levels were highest in the lung, suggesting that the former was ingested while the latter came from inhalation (Source).

    The news reports, however, made the factual error of implying that hashish, cocaine, and nicotine are "American drugs". The first two are not American and were widely available in Asia and Africa in the ancient times. While it is true that nicotine is most concentrated in tobacco and tobacco was indeed an "American" plant, nicotine is present in other plants, including the tomato, potato, eggplant, cauliflower, green pepper, chili pepper, and coca plant. Tomato is a member of the nightshade family (Source) and is of course an American plant. Coca is of course another American plant (Source). However, many members of the nightshade family were present in Asia and Africa. For example, potato is a member of the nightshade family and an old world plant that has high concentrations of nicotine (and other alkaloids) in its skin (Source). Eggplant is another old world plant that is believed to be of Southeast Asia and Indian origin, valued and traded by the Arabs (Source). According to one web site, ingesting ten grams of eggplant provides the same amount of nicotine obtained in three hours in a room with minimal tobacco smoke (according to Laurence in 1985).

    Finally, we should consider the implications of Egyptian travel to the New World. If Egyptians had repeatedly visited the New World, that should be supported by other data, including the presence and cultivation of tobacco. It is difficult to imagine that the Egyptians made many trips to the Americas just to collect tobacco or coca leaves without carrying some of the seeds back and growing them in Egypt. We also should have other evidence of Egyptians seafaring, including presence of artifacts in the pyramids of materials and substances that could only have come from the Americas.

    So, from a scientific point of view, I find the conclusion of Egyptian travel to the Americas to be the least parsimonious explanation.

    Last edited by Wise Young; 06-16-2007 at 06:28 AM.

  10. #10
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    Dr. Young

    I've read in the past that there is some evidence that the Chinese and possibly white people traded with south americans before the first explorers ever set foot in the new world. It's been years but I remember reading in seperate articles on artifacts showing dark and light skinned natives in relief and some carvings that had asian features different from other carvings. Obviously this isn't proof of trade between the continents but another interesting possibility.

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