Researchers believe this to be a ritual site, probably used by experienced shamans since the substances involved produced quite serious effects.
“A lot of these plants, if consumed in the wrong dosage, could be very poisonous,” Miller said. “So, whoever owned this bundle would need to have had great knowledge and skills about how to use these plants, and how and where to procure them.”
At the very best, “tryptamine DMT produces strong, vivid hallucinations that can last from minutes to an hour, but combined with harmine, you can have prolonged out-of-body altered states of consciousness with altered perceptions of time and of the self,” Miller said.
Many South American civilizations believed that you can embody the soul of an animal, which is probably why the pouch was made particularly from fox snouts. For Miller, who undertook a two-day journey to reach the excavation area, it was thrilling to study the artifacts.
“We were amazed to see the incredible preservation of these compounds in this ritual bundle,” said Miller. “I feel very lucky to have been a part of this research.”
She and her lab provided the technology needed to conduct toxicology tests on the samples, which included liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry, two technologies used to identify and quantify the components of a mixture. At first, archaeologists were unsure what to make of the stash, but when the lab results came in, everything clicked: everything was used for spiritual purposes — or to consume drugs, depending on how you see things.
The study indicates that ayahuasca and other similar substances have been consumed for over a thousand years in the Amazon basin. Nowadays, ayahuasca is experiencing an unexpected revival in places such as California, where some claim that it has become “as common as a cup of coffee.” Recent studies have also found that ayahuasca may help in treating conditions such as depression.
The study “Chemical evidence for the use of multiple psychotropic plants in a 1,000-year-old ritual bundle from South America” by Miller et al. has been published in PNAS.