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Washington State University
College of Arts and Sciences Archeology

Non-tobacco plant identified in ancient pipe for first time

Ancient smoking pipes.People in what is now Washington state were smoking Rhus glabra, a plant commonly known as smooth sumac, more than 1,400 years ago. The discovery, made by a team of WSU researchers, marks the first-time scientists have identified residue from a non-tobacco plant in an archeological pipe.

“The research casts doubt on the commonly held view that trade tobacco grown by Europeans overtook the use of natively-grown smoke plants after Euro-American contact,” said Shannon Tushingham, assistant professor of anthropology. » More …

Grad student discovers oldest tattoo tool in western North America

Tattoo ArtifactWith a handle of skunkbush and a cactus‑spine business end, the tool was made around 2,000 years ago by the Ancestral Pueblo people of the Basketmaker II period in what is now southeastern Utah.

Andrew Gillreath‑Brown, an anthropology PhD candidate, chanced upon the pen‑sized instrument while taking an inventory of archaeological materials that had been sitting in storage for more than 40 years. » More …

Nicotine identified in ancient dental plaque

A 1945 picture of a Yokuts Native American woman smoking a pipeA team of scientists including researchers from Washington State University has shown for the first time that nicotine residue can be extracted from plaque, also known as “dental calculus”, on the teeth of ancient tobacco users.

Their research provides a new method for determining who was consuming tobacco in the ancient world and could help trace the use of tobacco and other intoxicating plants further back into prehistory.

“The ability to identify nicotine and other plant-based drugs in ancient dental plaque could help us answer longstanding questions about the consumption of intoxicants by » More …

Charting wealth inequality across millennia

Researchers at Washington State University and 13 other institutions have found that the arc of prehistory bends towards economic inequality. In the largest study of its kind, the researchers saw disparities in wealth mount with the rise of agriculture, specifically the domestication of plants and large animals, and increased social organization.

Their findings, published this week in the journal Nature, have profound implications for contemporary society, as inequality repeatedly leads to social disruption, even collapse, said Tim Kohler, lead author and WSU Regents professor of archaeology and evolutionary anthropology at WSU. » More …

Prehistoric turkey DNA used to track human migration

In the mid-to-late 1200s, some 30,000 ancestral pueblo farmers left their homes in southwestern Colorado’s Mesa Verde region and never returned.

Where these people went and why they left are two of American archeology’s longest-standing mysteries. » More …