A bag of godly goodies

This pouch, made from three fox snouts expertly sewn together, is about 1000 years old, and when it was placed inside a human grave in southwestern Bolivia it contained enough psychotropic drugs to send Timothy Leary into orbit.

Preserved inside a leather bag, the pouch probably belonged to a shaman of the Tiwanaku people. It was discovered by a team led by anthropologist Jose Capriles from Penn State University, US, during recent excavations at a site known as the Cueva Del Chileno rock shelter.

A small sample of the contents was analysed using liquid chromatography in combination with tandem mass spectrometry.

The results revealed the presence of cocaine, benzoylecgonine (the primary metabolite of cocaine), harmine, bufotenin, dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and possibly psilocin (a compound found in some mushrooms), from at least three different plant species.

“Shamans were ritual specialists who had knowledge of plants and how to use them as mechanisms to engage with supernatural beings, including venerated ancestors who were thought to exist in other realms,” says Capriles. 

“It is possible that the shaman who owned this pouch consumed multiple different plants simultaneously to produce different effects or extend his or her hallucinations.”

The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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