Imagine Heraclitus spending an afternoon down by the river...
Traces of heroin and cocaine have been found in the tartar of 19th-century Dutch farmers.
- Archaeologists can now tell what drugs our ancestors used thanks to tooth tartar.
- For this study, they tested 10 cadavers and discovered 44 drugs and metabolites.
- This new method will offer us insights into the types of drugs our ancestors used.
Credi: Сергей Кучугурный / Adobe Stock<p>This is no easy method. Tartar levels vary from person to person. As they write, the variables include "the intake of fermentable carbohydrates, acidic foods and medicines; the salivary flow rate; the endogenous concentrations of inorganic ions in saliva; and salivary buffer systems, impact calculus formation."</p><p>They also have to factor in accidental consumption or inhalation of drugs, which also leaves a record. That said, the team is pleased with the results. Archaeology has long measured cultural drug use; now they can gain insights into exactly <em>who</em> did the inhaling, which might provide information about the identity and role of the skeletons they unearth.</p><p>The team found cocaine, heroin, and heroin metabolites in the remains of these Dutch farmers, which could help Bartholdy piece together their pain management protocols. More pedestrian consumption was also found: "The common consumption of caffeine containing drinks and the widespread use of tobacco products were reflected by the investigated samples."</p><p>There are a few barriers: this particular technology is expensive and hard to access—it's not a common laboratory machine. And while tartar is hardy, not every substance is going to survive for millennia, or even years. Amphetamines, MDMA, and codeine have "low logP and plasma-protein binding," while benzodiazepines and morphine exhibit "high plasma-protein binding." The team was surprised to discover cocaine and heroin in the samples given their chemical and enzymatic instability.</p><p>That said, this research empowers archaeologists with yet another tool in their research kit. While scholars like Muraresku might not convince the Vatican to give up their vessels, we may soon have another way of discovering early Christian psychedelic usage. We should also learn more about pain management—and maybe even the pleasure of our ancestors.</p><p><span></span>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a>. His most recent book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
New anthropological research suggests our ancestors enjoyed long slumbers.
- Neanderthal bone fragments discovered in northern Spain mimic hibernating animals like cave bears.
- Thousands of bone fragments, dating back 400,000 years, were discovered in this "pit of bones" 30 years ago.
- The researchers speculate that this physiological function, if true, could prepare us for extended space travel.
Evidence of ancient human hibernation / human hibernation for space travel | Dr Antonis Bartsiokas<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c18723ed15c9b3ed88a24552f681711e"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ba72UrBWsc4?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>While the fragments have been well studied in the intervening decades, Arsuaga (who led an early excavation in Atapuerca) and Bartsiokas noticed something odd about the bones: they displayed signs of seasonal variations. These proto-humans appear to have experienced annual bone growth disruption, which is indicative of hibernating species.</p><p>In fact, the remains of cave bears were also found in this pit, increasing the likelihood that the burial site was reserved for species that shared common features. This could be the result of a dearth of food for bears and Neanderthals alike. The researchers write that modern northerners don't need to sleep for months at a time; an abundance of fish and reindeer didn't exist in Spain, as they do in the Arctic. They write, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The aridification of Iberia then could not have provided enough fat-rich food for the people of Sima during the harsh winter—making them resort to cave hibernation."</p><p>The notion of hibernating humans is appealing, especially to those in cold climates, but some experts <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/dec/20/early-humans-may-have-survived-the-harsh-winters-by-hibernating" target="_blank">don't want to put the cart before the horse</a>. Large mammals don't engage in textbook hibernation; their deep sleep is known as a "torpor." Even then, the demands of human-sized brains could have been too large for extended periods of slumber.</p><p>Still, as we continually discover our animalistic origins to better understand how we evolved, the researchers note the potential value of this research.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The present work provides an innovative approach to the physiological mechanisms of metabolism in early humans that could help determine the life cycle and physiology of extinct human species."</p><p>Bartsiokas <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ba72UrBWsc4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">speculates</a> that this ancient mechanism could be coopted for space travel in the future. If the notion of hibernating humans sounds far-fetched, the <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/01/human-hibernation-real-possibility/605071/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">idea has been contemplated for years</a>, as NASA began funding research on this topic in 2014. As the saying goes, everything old is new again. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His new book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
A new study shows that at least one long-ago journey would have required deliberate navigation.
- Historians have wondered whether ancient mariners drifted from Taiwan to Japan or navigated there on purpose.
- The passage between Taiwan and the Ryukyu islands contains one of the world's strongest currents.
- Thousands of buoys suggests that the journey was anything but an accident.
Not an easy trip<p><span style="background-color: initial;"><a href="https://www.u-tokyo.ac.jp/focus/en/people/k0001_03383.html" target="_blank">Yosuke Kaifu</a></span> of the University Museum at the University of Tokyo and his colleagues sought to answer the longstanding riddle. "There have been many studies on Paleolithic migrations to Australia and its neighboring landmasses," said Kaifu in a <a href="https://www.u-tokyo.ac.jp/focus/en/press/z0508_00149.html" target="_blank">press release</a>, "often discussing whether these journeys were accidental or intentional."</p><p>"Our study looks specifically at the migration to the Ryukyu Islands because it is not just historically significant, but is also very difficult to get there." </p><p>The ancient sailors would have known of the islands because they were visible from the top of a mountain on the coast of Taiwan, although not down along the coast itself.</p><p>The waters between Taiwan and the Ryukyu Islands represented an opportunity for the researchers since they are dominated by the Kuirishio current, one of the strongest currents in the world. The researchers' hypothesis was that sailors were unlikely to have crossed it accidentally. Says Kaifu, "If they crossed this sea deliberately, it must have been a bold act of exploration."</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDkzMTczNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMDE5MzY3Mn0.bwWV2NA1Dh_b0cfYKtJ6wmsBMiEvWOPMQHgHQdtCOS0/img.jpg?width=980" id="03baf" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e298d9ae8b5e41ce6b1f1fd2f39a7716" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="810" />
Credit: w.aoki/Adobe Stock
Buoys will be buoys<p>Kaifu had long been interested in devising some kind of experiment to better understand those who made the journey but, "had no idea how to demonstrate the intentionality of the sea crossings." Upon meeting the study's Taiwanese co-authors, experts in the Kuirishio, the outlines of a plan because clear.</p><p>To test the possibility of an accidental arrival at the Ryukyu Islands, Kaifu and his team set 138 satellite-tracked buoys adrift and tracked how many of them managed to float over to the islands.</p><p>"Only four of the buoys came within 20 kilometers of any of the Ryukyu Islands, and all of these were due to adverse weather conditions," explains Kaifu. This was an unlikely factor in the human travelers' voyage because, "If you were an ancient mariner, it's very unlikely you would have set out on any kind of journey with such a storm on the horizon."</p><p>The results reveal that the current was more likely to take ancient sailors anywhere <em>but</em> the islands. "What this tells us is that the Kuroshio directs drifters away from, rather than towards, the Ryukyu Islands; in other words, that region must have been actively navigated."</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDkzMTc2NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDA3MzIyMH0.S3kwkamV4-AkzOeC_J5RDPFKptV1G9lYPVmJU-nnBV8/img.jpg?width=980" id="8a663" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4a38c1086300eb13308ef3a17204d44e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="2331" data-height="2532" />
Where the buoys traveled
Credit: Tien-Hsia Kuo/University of Tokyo
An old current<p>Supporting the researchers findings are geologic records from the area that suggests the Kuirishio hasn't changed since the mariners' journey so long ago — it's been present in its current form for about 100,000 years.</p><p>The research appears to answer the riddle of at least this one ancient migration, says Kaifu: "Now, our results suggest the drift hypothesis for Paleolithic migration in this region is almost impossible. I believe we succeeded in making a strong argument that the ancient populations in question were not passengers of chance, but explorers."</p>
The rites we give to the dead help us understand what it takes to go on living.
As the coronavirus pandemic hit New York in March, the death toll quickly went up with few chances for families and communities to perform traditional rites for their loved ones.