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There’s a new twist in the tale of tribal tobacco

Tobacco researchers
Washington State University researchers David Gang and Shannon Tushingham have found that tobacco use among the Nez Perce goes back centuries. They’re holding two of the pipes that were analyzed for nicotine residue. (WSU Photo)

Tobacco plays a big role in Native American history and culture, predating Christopher Columbus’ arrival by well more than a millennium. But what did ancient tribes smoke? And can history help modern-day tribes put tobacco in its proper place?

A newly published study by Washington State University researchers traces the smoking habits of indigenous peoples in southeastern Washington state over the course of centuries, based on a molecular analysis of residue extracted from smoking pipes found at archaeological sites.

“This is the longest continuous biomolecular record of ancient tobacco smoking from a single region anywhere in the world — initially during an era of pithouse development, through the late pre-contact equestrian era, and into the historic period,” the research team, led by WSU anthropologist Shannon Tushingham, reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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