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The Frequency and Antiquity of Prehistoric Coca-Leaf-Chewing Practices in Northern Chile: Radioimmunoassay of a Cocaine Metabolite in Human-Mummy Hair

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Larry W. Cartmell
Affiliation:
Department of Pathology, Valley View Regional Hospital, Ada, OK 74820
Arthur C. Aufderheide
Affiliation:
Paleobiology Laboratory, Department of Pathology, School of Medicine, University of Minnesota-Duluth, Duluth, MN 55812
Angela Springfield
Affiliation:
Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office, 200 Feliks Gvozdz Place, Fort Worth, TX 76104-4949
Cheryl Weems
Affiliation:
Department of Pathology, Valley View Regional Hospital, Ada, OK 74820
Bernardo Arriaza
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, University of Tarapacá, Arica, Chile

Abstract

Coca-leaf chewing results in absorption of part of its cocaine content. Following absorption, cocaine and/or its stable metabolic product benzoylecgonine (BZE) may enter the chewer's hair follicles and subsequently be incorporated into the hair shafts. This article reports that a recently developed radioimmunoassay is capable of detecting BZE in hair samples from ancient, spontaneously mummified human remains. Results are provided from tests on hair samples of 163 individuals, representatives of populations from seven different cultures living at coastal and low valley sites in northern Chile during the past 4,000 years. These indicate that coca-leaf-chewing practices began in this area about 2,000 years ago. The practice seems to have been common in several subsequent cultural groups. In one of these—Maitas Chiribaya—the majority of both adult men and women indulged in this practice. Coca-leaf-chewing women probably transferred BZE to their fetuses and nursing infants.

La masticación de coca tiene como resultado la absorción de una parte de su contenido de cocaína, entra en los folículos del cabello del masticador y consecuentemente se incorpora al tallo del cabello. Este artículo informa que un ensayo radioimunológico desarrollado recientemente es capaz de detectar la BZE en muestras de cabello de restos humanos momificados espontáneamente en la antigüedad. Los resultados presentados provienen de pruebas de muestras de cabello de 163 individuos, representantes de poblaciones de ocho culturas diferentes asentadas en sitios costeros y valles bajos en el norte de Chile durante los últimos 4.000 años. Los resultados indican que la masticación de coca comenzó en esta área hace alrededor de 2.000 años. Esta práctica parece haber sido común en varios grupos culturales subsiguientes. Parece que en uno de ellos—Maitas Chiribaya—la mayoría de los adultos, hombres y mujeres, cultivaba esta práctica. Las mujeres masticadoras de hojas de coca probablemente transmitían la BZE a sus fetos y lactantes.

Type
Reports
Copyright
Copyright © Society for American Archaeology 1991

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