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.
Curated content from the editorial staff at Cosmos Magazine.
Read science facts, not fiction...
There’s never been a more important time to explain the facts, cherish evidence-based knowledge and to showcase the latest scientific, technological and engineering breakthroughs. Cosmos is published by The Royal Institution of Australia, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science. Financial contributions, however big or small, help us provide access to trusted science information at a time when the world needs it most. Please support us by making a donation or purchasing a subscription today.