WSU Scientists Identify Contents of Ancient Maya Drug Containers

March 28, 2021

Washington State University researchers have detected marigold in residues from 14 miniature Maya ceramic vessels buried 1,000 years ago in the Yucatan. These vessels also contain types of dried and cured tobacco. The marigold would have made the tobacco taste better.

The analysis methods were developed in collaboration between the Department of Anthropology and the Institute of Biological Chemistry to give researchers the ability to investigate drug use in the ancient world like never before.

Mark Zimmermann and colleagues’ work was funded by the NSF, which led to a new metabolomics-based analysis method that can detect thousands of plant compounds or metabolites in residue collected from containers, pipes, bowls and other archaeological artifacts. The compounds can then be used to identify which plants were consumed.

Zimmermann helped unearth two of the ceremonial vessels that were used for the analysis in the spring of 2012. Zimmerman’s team now want to study other ancient containers and the dental plaque of ancient humans in Mexico using the same new methods. This will revolutionize the study of psycho-active drugs in the ancient world. has the report here with photos: