Peter Hess, writing for Inverse:
Long before ayahuasca became popular among Silicon Valley seekers, it was the domain of specialized healers and spiritual leaders. Archaeologists have long known that ancient peoples throughout the Americas consumed various plant-based drugs to heal, find meaning, and connect to a spiritual world, but research published Monday in PNAS suggests that they were used even more widely than scientists suspected.
In the paper , an international team of archaeologists identified traces of five different psychoactive chemicals in a bundle of belongings dating back to about 1,000 years ago. The objects, found in Cueva del Chileno, a rock shelter in the Andes in present-day Bolivia, include animal-skin pouches and a headband, as well as spatulas, two trays, and an intricately carved tube — tools that were most likely used for sniffing a plant-based psychedelic drug.
Using radiocarbon dating, the team showed that the leather bag containing the objects dates back to somewhere between 905 and 1170 CE. And using liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry, they found that the kit contained traces of cocaine, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), harmine, bufotenine, and benzoylecgonine — psychoactive chemicals that are all found in various plants native to South America.
Humans have been using psychoactive drugs since time immemorial. Now we have proof that people have been working with these particular substances for at least a thousand years. What’s amazing about this story is that these chemicals did not originate from the area where the bag was found:
Perhaps most significantly, the plants that produce the chemicals analyzed at the site do not grow in the place where they were found. The archaeologists note that while the site is located in the mountains, at an elevation of almost 13,000 feet above sea level, most of these plants grow in the lowland forests of the Amazon.
In other words, these shamans were either acquiring these drugs from a trading network or going on long treks to collect them on their own.