Drugs in prehistory: chemical analysis of ancient human hair
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Concern about drug abuse in modem populations has led to the development of specific methods for identification of cocaine, opiates and cannabis in human hair. Drug use in prehistory can provide indirect evidence of interpopulational contact and social stratification. This paper reports drug evaluation in nineteen ancient hair samples from archaeological sites in northern Chile. Each sample was tested for the presence of traces of cocaine, opiates and cannabis, in order to establish a standard methodology for studies of drug use among prehistoric groups. Although results are negative, this absence of evidence could be due to two main causes: (1) the individuals evaluated did not use any drugs, which does not mean that other members of their cultural group did, or (2) the wide range of known drugs studied did not consider some group specific drugs, derived from local or imported plants, thus meaning that a greater drug range must be tested. In any case, our study confirms that drug testing in prehistoric samples is viable. However, in order to determine what kind of substances were used in prehistoric times new patterns that incorporate all drugs which are not part of the western pharmacopeia must be created. Finally, a methodology for the study of drug use among prehistoric groups using ancient hair samples is described.
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