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Images: Chilean Mummies Hold Nicotine Secret

The Atacama

view of the san pedro de atacama in the atacama desert

(Image credit: Hermann M. Niemeyer)

The hair of mummies from the town of San Pedro de Atacama (SPA) in Chile, shown here, reveals the people in the region had a nicotine habit spanning from at least 100 B.C. to A.D. 1450. Additionally, nicotine consumption occurred on a society-wide basis, irrespective of social status and wealth, researchers say.

Mummy Hair

hair from chilean mummies

(Image credit: Hermann M. Niemeyer)

The researchers analyzed hair samples of 56 mummies from the Late Formative to the Late Intermediate periods.

Naturally Preserved

view of the san pedro de atacama in the atacama desert

(Image credit: Hermann M. Niemeyer)

The Chilean mummies were in good condition, preserved naturally from the high temperatures, extreme dryness and high soil salinity in the Atacama Desert (shown here).

Snuffing Tray

snuffing tray from chile

(Image credit: Hermann M. Niemeyer)

A range of different objects were buried along with the mummies, such as jewelry, weapons, ceramic objects, raw metals, textiles, vases and various snuffing paraphernalia (snuffing tray, shown here), including mortars, trays and tubes.

Nicotine Habit

a chilean smoking pipe found buried with mummies

(Image credit: Francisca Gili)

In addition to finding nicotine in hair samples from 35 of the mummies, spanning a range of years, the researchers also found smoking pipes. Overall, the results, which will be detailed in the October issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, suggest nicotine consumption in pre-Hispanic SPA occurred continuously for hundreds of years and was performed by people of all social statuses and wealth.

Chinchorro Black Mummy

A so-called black mummy created by the ancient South American Chinchorro people. Mummies like these were made between 7,000 and 4,800 years ago.

(Image credit: Courtesy of Bernardo Arriaza)

The dryness of the Atacama desert is known for its ability to naturally preserve mummies, including this so-called black mummy created by the ancient South American Chinchorro people. Mummies like these were made between 7,000 and 4,800 years ago.

The Maiden Mummy

The Maiden mummy of 15-year-old girl.

(Image credit: Angelique Corthals)

Other mummies found in South America include three child mummies, which were discovered on the summit of the Llullaillaco volcano located on the Argentina-Chile border. The summit is 22,100 feet (6,739 meters) above sea level, where temperatures were chilled enough to preserve the bodies, turning them into mummies, after the kids were sacrificed some 500 years ago. Here, the Maiden mummy of a 15-year-old girl who was sacrificed some 500 years ago suggests she likely suffered from a lung infection at the time of her death, scientists reported July 25, 2012.