Researchers Find a 1,000-Year-Old Shaman’s Bag Containing Various Psychotropic Substances

According to a recently published study, experts have recently uncovered conclusive evidence of the use of cocaine and the hallucinogenic drug DMT in South America, thousands of years ago.

According to experts, the Native Americans made use of a variety of psychotropic plants—possibly even mixing several of them together—and consumed them in order to induce hallucinations and ‘altered consciousness’ thousands of years ago.

While exploring archeological sites in the dry rock shelters of the dried out Sora River in Bolivia, the scientists stumbled upon an ancient ritual bundle, part of an ancient human burial inside a cave dubbed “Cueva del Chileno”.

Inside a leather bag, the researchers discovered, among a variety of things, two snuffing tablets that were used by the ancestors to pulverize psychotropic plants into snuff. They also recovered a stuffing tube that was used for smoking hallucinogenic plants, and a pouch crafted out of three fox snouts.

The leather bag and its contents. Image Credit: Miller et al., PNAS, 2019.
The leather bag and its contents. Image Credit: Miller et al., PNAS, 2019.

Dr. Jose Capriles assistant Professor of anthropology at Penn State University revealed in a statement how the discovery does not come as a surprise.

“We already knew that psychotropics were important in the spiritual and religious activities of the societies of the south-central Andes, but we did not know that these people were using so many different compounds and possibly combining them together.”

“This is the largest number of psychoactive substances ever found in a single archaeological assemblage from South America,” Dr. Capriles added.

Using accelerator mass spectrometry radiocarbon dating, the researchers found that the age of the leather bag span back around a thousand years.


“‘This period in this location is associated with the disintegration of the Tiwanaku state and the emergence of regional polities,” Dr. Capriels revealed.

Further analysis was performed on the content as researchers used a scalpel to obtain a small content of the material coating inside the fox pouch.

They analyzed the content using liquid chromatography and tandem mass spectrometry and found that the pouch contained as many as five different psychedelic plants.

“Chemical traces of bufotenine, dimethyltryptamine, harmine, and cocaine, including its degradation product benzoylecgonine, were identified, suggesting that at least three plants containing these compounds were part of the shamanic paraphernalia,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

“This is also a documented case of a ritual bundle containing both harmine and dimethyltryptamine, the two primary ingredients of ayahuasca [a plant-based psychedelic tea].”

The researchers explained that the owner of the bag was most likely a shaman from the region.

The ancient pouch also suggests that in addition to an impressive knowledge in psychedelics, the people went to significant effort to obtain psychotropics.

“None of the psychoactive compounds we found come from plants that grow in this area of the Andes, indicating either the presence of elaborate exchange networks or the movement of this individual across diverse environments to procure these special plants,” explained archaeologist Melanie Miller of the University of Otago.

“This discovery reminds us that people in the past had extensive knowledge of these powerful plants and their potential uses, and they sought them out for their medicinal and psychoactive properties.”

The research has been published in PNAS.