A tobacco field. Photo: Usually Melancholy
Study pushes back earliest date of tobacco usage in North America
A pipe from that was discovered at a tribal site in present-day Alabama indicates tobacco was used by the first Americans much earlier than thought.

The pipe, carved from limestone, tested positive for nicotine, The Cherokee One Feather reported. It dates back about 3,500 years, making it about 1,500 years older than a pipe previously considered to be the oldest evidence of tobacco use in North America.

“This new discovery changes how we think about the past,” Dr. Stephen Carmody, an assistant professor of anthropology at Troy University in Alabama, said in a press release. “Tobacco is one of the most, if not the most, important plants to native peoples. We’ve now dated its use in our area 1,500 years earlier than the earliest dates we had.”

The pipe was among dozens of artifacts removed from the site along the Flint River in northern Alabama in the 1930s, Science Magazine reported. The area was subsequently flooded by the creation of the Guntersville Dam.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, whose homelands include the site where the artifacts were found, helped finance the study, which was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports on June 15.


“The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Historic Preservation Office is proud and honored to be working with Dr. Carmody and his esteemed colleagues. The analysis of residue from these archaeological pipes has helped to inform our tribe about prehistoric tobacco use and the use of medicinal additives,” said Russell Townsend, the tribe's historic preservation officer.

“Also, the very early date derived from this new sample forces us to re-evaluate our assumptions about the origins of agriculture in the Southeast," Townsend said. "The ramifications of this work are very exciting, and we look forward to continuing our research efforts with Dr. Carmody and his associates.”

Read More on the Story:
Study finds older use of tobacco than previously thought (The Cherokee One Feather June 15, 2018)
Americans have been lighting up for more than 3000 years, ancient pipe reveals (Science Magazine June 15, 2018)

Get the Study:
Evidence of tobacco from a Late Archaic smoking tube recovered from the Flint River site in southeastern North America (Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, volume 20, (August, 2018)