Cocaine Mummies-Transcript

Copywrite from the Discovery Channel 

Mystery of the Cocaine Mummies  

Video Review Guide 

The Curse of the Cocaine Mummies  1996, 53 minutes: Discovery Channel


When toxicologist Svetla Balabanova discovered heavy concentrations of both

cocaine and nicotine in mummies from a Munich, Germany museum, many

questions were raised. Initially, she was accused of sloppy lab work or

instrument contamination. That ruled out, contamination of the mummies

themselves was considered. Did the materials get into the mummies from later

contamination? Hair shaft tests proved that some  nicotine was consumed.

Were the mummies fakes, common in museums, faked and purchased during the

last century. Apparently not. 

The video is a good demonstration of how science works to eliminate

possibilities. For example, it is possible that nicotine-bearing plants were

available in Africa. Left open, is the question of cocaine, apparently only

available in South America.   

This leads to questions of transoceanic contact which are explored in detail

in the last half of the video. Skeptics point out how scanty the evidence

really is for trade routes that might have included America. Some good

scholars (Kehoe, Bernal) favor the evidence and believe that trade was

likely. The narrator raises some seriously erroneous issues about how

science works. Pay careful attention to the concluding remarks. 

On the back of this sheet answer the following Questions: 

  1. How were the nicotine and cocaine discovered in the mummies? What does

     this say about some discoveries in science?

  2. What did the search for nicotine plants native to Africa demonstrate? 

  3. Are there serious issues about the nature of the use of nicotine in

     Egypt and America that go unexplored?

  4. What is the nature of the evidence for transoceanic trade?

  5. Are any serious questions omitted from the discussion? What kind of

     diffusion would such trade be? What sorts of evidences should appear

     besides the drugs themselves? 

  6. In what way does the narrator give an erroneous version of how science

     works? Why is this misleading? 


S. Balabanova et al, at the Institut fur Anthropologie und Humangenetik in

Munich, have pulverized and dissolved samples of hair, soft tissue, and bone

tissue from seven Egyptian mummies dated between 1070 BC and 395 AD.

Chemical analyses detected cocaine, hashish, and nicotine in quantities

similar to those found in modern addicts. 

(Balabanova, S., et al; "First Identification of Drugs in Egyptian Mummies,"

Naturwissenschaften, 79:358, 1992. Cr. B. Rudersdorf) 

Comment, Presumably, the nicotine was derived from tobacco. Tobacco is

widely believed to be a New World plant. Is this belief incorrect? Could the

nicotine have come from another source? Were there contacts with the New

World before the Vikings and Columbus? 

In the 21st dynasty of the Pharaos, 3,000 years ago, there took place one night at a temple, the funeral of Henut Taui - the Lady of the Two lands.  

Compared to the great rulers of Egypt, her burial was a modest affair. But just like the Pharaos, she too was mummified, and her body placed in the depths of a desert tomb, in the belief it would give her immortality.  

In an unexpected way, it has. Her mummified body waited throughout recorded history - the Greeks and Romans, the Dark and Middle ages, the Renaissance and Napoleon, until in the early 19th century, her tomb was plundered.  

The king of Bavaria bought the ornate sarcophagus with the mummy inside. He gave it to a museum in Munich, where for another century, Henut Taui lay undisturbed.  

Then four years ago a German scientist, Dr Svetla Balabanova, made a discovery which was to baffle Egyptologists, and call into question whole areas of science and archeology to chemistry and botany.  

She discovered that the body of Henut Taui contained large quantities of cocaine and nicotine. The surprise was not just that the ancient Egyptians had taken drugs, but that these drugs come from tobacco and coca, plants completly unknown outside the Americas, unheard of until Sir Walter Raleigh introduced smoking from the New World, or until cocaine was imported in the Victorian era.  

It was seemingly impossible for the ancient Egyptians to get hold of these substances. And so began the mystery -  

The mystery of the cocaine mummies.  

It was in Munich, in 1992, that researchers began a huge project to investigate the contents of mummies. When as part of their studies, they wanted to test for drugs, it was no surprise that they turned to toxicologist Dr Svelta Balabanova for help.  

As the inventor of groundbreaking new methods for the detection of drugs in hair and sweat, she was highly respected in her field. Dr Balabanova took samples from the mummies, which she pulverised and dissolved to make a solution. As

she'd done countless times before, she ran the samples through a system which uses antibodies to detect the presence of drugs an other substances. Then as a backup the samples were put through the GCMS machine which can accurately

identify substances by determining their molecular weight. As the graph emerged with peaks showing that drugs were present, and as the printer spewed out the analysis of just which drugs, something seemed to have gone very wrong.  

DR SVETLA BALABANOVA - Institute of Forensic Medicine, Ulm:

"The first positive results, of course, were a shock for me. I had not expected to find nicotine and cocaine but that's what happened. I was absolutely sure it must be a mistake."  


Balabanova ran the tests again. She sent fresh samples to three other labs. But the results kept being confirmed. The drugs were there. So she went ahead and published a paper. The reaction was a sharp reminder that science is a conservative world.  

DR SVETLA BALABANOVA - Institute of Forensic Medicine, Ulm:  "I got a pile of letters that were almost threatening, insulting letters saying it was nonsense, that I was fantasising, that it was impossible, because it was proven that before Columbus these plants were not found anywhere in the world outside of the Americas."  


From toxicologists to anthropologists - everyone thought the same.  

DR JOHN HENRY - Consultant Toxicologist, Guys Hospital, London:

"The first thing you think of is that this is just mad. It's wrong. There's contamination present. Maybe there's a fraud

present of some kind. You don't think that cocaine can be present in an Egyptian mummy."  


Yet Balabanova herself had been worried about contamination. First she checked all the lab equipment. But being a

forensic toxicologist, that wasn't all she did. Balabanova had learned her trade from working for the police, and had been

trained in the methods they use for investigating a suspicious death. She'd been taught how vital it is when an autopsy is

carried out to know wether the victim has consumed or been given any drugs or poisons. And she had also been taught

that a special forensic technique exists which can show that the deceased has consumed a drug and rule out contamination

at the same time.  

So, anxious to ensure that her tests on the mummies were beyond reproach, she used this very technique - it's called the

hair shaft test. Drugs and other substances consumed by humans get into the hair protein, where they stay for months, or

after death - forever. Hair samples can be washed in alcohol and the washing solution itself then tested. If the testing

solution is clear, but the hair tests positive, then the drug must be inside the hair shaft, which means the person

consumed it during their lifetime. It's considered proof against contamination before or after death.  

DR JOHN HENRY - Consultant Toxicologist, Guys Hospital, London:

"The hair shaft test is accepted. If you know that you've taken your hair sample from this individual and the hair shaft is

known to contain a drug, then it is proof positive that the person has taken that drug. So it is accepted in law. It's put

people into prison."  


The hair shaft test on a couple in Jersey [Channel Is.], showed their two sons had drugged them before killing them. And

aside from the Newall case , the technique has been used in countless others over the last 25 years. Since it's also used

for drugs tests on addicts, company employees and in sport, to suggest it could produce false results was for Balabanova


DR SVETLA BALABANOVA - Institute of Forensic Medicine, Ulm:

"There's no way there can be a mistake in this test. This method is widely accepted and has been used thousands of

times. If the results are not genuine, then the explanation must lie elswhere, and not in my tests, because I'm 100 percent

certain about the results."  


If the fault was not in the tests, what else could lie behind the impossibility of mummies containing drugs from coca and

tobacco, from a continent not discovered until over 1,000 years after the end of the Egyptian civilisation? In search of an

explanation, we went to one of the UK's foremost authorities on mummies, a person who had spent years rummaging

around in the bodies of ancient Egyptians, Rosalie David.  

ROSALIE DAVID - Keeper of Egyptology, Manchester Museum:

"When I was informed that cocaine had been found in Egyptian mummies, I was absolutely astounded. It seemed quite

impossible that this should be the case."  


Sceptical of Balabanova's results, Rosalie David decided to get some sampless from her own mummies and have them

tested especially for 'Equinox'.  

ROSALIE DAVID - Keeper of Egyptology, Manchester Museum:

"What we shall do is to provide tissue samples and a hair sample from a number of mummies in the Manchester Museum

collection. I shall be very surprised to find they had cocaine in them."  


It would be a while before the results came back from the lab. Rosalie David's motive was not only to independently

check Balabanova's methods. She also wanted to run the same tests but on different mummies. For she had more than

one idea about how Balabanova could have got a misleading result.  

ROSALIE DAVID - Keeper of Egyptology, Manchester Museum:

"There were two ideas that sprang immediately to mind. One was that possibly something in the tests could give a false

result. The second was that possibly the mummies that had been tested were not truly ancient Egyptian, that they could be

some of these false, relativly modern mummies, and traces of cocaine could be in those individuals."  


What Rosalie David was referring to happened in Egypt in Victorian Times. It was a gruesome operation to supply the

antique dealers of Luxor.  

When 19th century travellers went to Egypt in search of mummies and other valuables, the dealers might not have the

genuine article available. And so the crudely mummified body of a recently dead Egyptian might be procured instead. For

a shrivelled corpes would greatly increase the value of a genuine but empty sarcophagus.  

Sometimes collectors would buy only limbs or other mummified spare parts. These are doubly suspect for the trade in

fake mummies, especially separate heads and limbs, has an even older origin.  

Eating the flesh of mummies was a common 16th century practice in Europe. People believed that mummies contained a

black tar called bitumen, and so thought powder made from the ground up bodies would cure various illnesses.  

This is the very origin of the word mummy, from the Persian for bitumen, mummia, and although it made people sick a

roaring trade in powdered mummia grew, supplied from body parts and tissue shipped in bulk from Egypt.  

The temptation to resort to fakes was high.  

ROSALIE DAVID - Keeper of Egyptology, Manchester Museum:

"Very soon, the demand outstripped the supply and certainly in the 16th century a French physician undertook a study of

this trade. And he found that in fact they were burying bodies of convicted criminals in the sand. They were producing

mummies, and these then became a source for the medicinal ingredient."  


Could it be that the mummies Balabanova tested were fakes? Carbon dating on mummies often produces incorrect

results, so archaeologists often rely on the provenance - knowing what tomb and excavation the mummy comes from and

on examination of the mummification techniques.  

So the only way for Rosalie David to check out here theory about fakes was to travel to Munich to see for herself the

seven mummies that were the cause of all the fuss.  

The Munich mummies as they are known, belong to the city's Egyptian Museum, which is housed in the old palace of

King Ludwig I of Bavaria, who started the collection.  

Inside the museum, Rosalie David found the sarcophagus of Henut Taui - the Lady of the Two Lands. She discovered

from the museum catalogue that the coffin was bought by King Ludwig from an English traveller called Dodwell in

1845. There was no record of an exact excavation, but Henut Taui was said to have come from a tomb reserved for the

priests and priestesses of the god Amun in Thebes.  

But while being shown the other coffins Rosalie David discovered that apart from Henut Taui, most of the Munich

mummies are of unknown origin, and some of the tested mummies turned out to be only detatched heads. According to

the museum, research had revealed inscriptions, amulets and complex embalming methods, which the museum claimed

proved the mummies were ancient.  

DR ALFRED GRIMM - Curator, The Egyptian Museum, Munich:

"The investigation shows clearly that the Munich mummies are real Egyptian mummies, no fakes, no modern mummies.

They come from ancient Egypt."  


The obvious way to prove this was to show the mummies to Rosalie David, but all the museum would let her see were

empty sarcophogi.  

DR ALFRED GRIMM - Curator, The Egyptian Museum, Munich:

"On grounds of religious respect we don't show these mummies here in our galleries. That's one point. The other is we

don't allow to film the mummies and to show them on TV."  


It wasn't always so, for the mummies had already been shown on television. But this German film [film showing

mummified bodies without wrappings] announcing Balabanova's results has caused quite a fuss. And so now, even

though giving access might defeat the accusation of harbouring bogus mummies, it seemed that the museum wanted

nothing more to do with the research they politely pointed out was far from respectable.  

DR ALFRED GRIMM - Curator, The Egyptian Museum, Munich:

"It's not absolutely proven and I think it's not absolutely scientifically correct."  


Rosalie had to make do with research papers and books from the museum. Were the Munich mummies fakes? Despite

her initial suspicions she decided that on balance, they probably were the real thing.  

ROSALIE DAVID - Keeper of Egyptology, Manchester Museum:

"From the documentation and the research which has been carried out on the Munich mummies it seems evident that they

are probably genuine because they have packages of viscera inside, some with wax images of the gods on them and also

the state of mummification itself is very good. I would say that the detatched heads we can't comment on, but the

complete bodies probably are genuine."  


And if that wasn't enough, it turned out that the results from the Munich mummies were not the only evidence from the

dead. The anthropologists who originally ordered the tests didn't continue the project. But Balabanova, alongside her

normal research into the metabolism of drugs started requesting samples of other ancient human remains from

universities. And it was then that she got more results from Egypt.  

She tested tissue from 134 naturally preserved bodies from an excavated cemetery in the Sudan, once part of the Egyptian

empire. Although from a later period, the bodies were still many centuries before Columbus discovered the Americas.

About a third of them tested positive for nicotine and cocaine.  

Balabanova was mystified by the presence of cocaine in Africa but thought she might have a way of explaining the

nicotine. As well as Egypt and the Sudan, she tested bodies from China, Germany and Austria, spanning a period from

3700BC to 1100AD. A percentage of bodies from all these other regions also contained nicotine.  

[Graph showing presence of nicotine: Percentage of bodies with positive result - Egypt:89% Sudan:90% China:62.5%

Germany:34% Austria 100%]  

DR SVETLA BALABANOVA - Institute of Forensic Medicine, Ulm:

"I continued to work on it because I wanted to be sure of my results, and after 3000 samples I, was absolutely certain

that the tobacco plant was known in Europe and Africa long before Columbus."  


Far from being solved, the mytery that began in Egypt was spreading. Balabanova was suggesting that an unknown type

of tobacco had grown in Europe, Africa and Asia thousands of years ago. But every schoolchild knows that tobacco was

discovered in the New World. She was asking for a substantial slice of botany and history to be completely rewritten.

Would anyone back her up?  

Dr Balabonova had told us that we might find the secret of the mysterious presence of nicotine and cocaine in Egyptan

mummies in the ancient plants of Africa. Perhaps there had been drug plants which the Egyptians had used but had

vanished along with their civilisation. This led to a much more basic question. Were the Egyptians, the great Pharaos and

pyramid builders really users and abusers of drugs?  

The clues can be found hidden in the walls of the grand temple of Karnak. The entire building is covered depictions of

the lotus flower from the tops of the vast columns to the pictograms on the walls. Until recently, Egyptologists took this

most commonplace Egyptian symbol to have only a religious meaning. But according to some the true significance of the

lotus has been overlooked.  

ROSALIE DAVID - Keeper of Egyptology, Manchester Museum:

"The lotus was a very powerful narcotic which was used in ancient Egypt and presumably, was widespread in this use,

because we see many scenes of idividuals holding a cup and dropping a lotus flower into the cup which contained wine,

and this would be a way of releasing the narcotic.  

"The ancient Egyptians certainly used drugs. As well as lotus they had mandrake and cannabis, and there is a strong

suggestion the also used opium.  

"So although it very surprising to find cocaine in mummies, the other elements were certainly in use."  


So the Pharaos clearly indulged in drugs. Hashish - which Balabanova also found in the mummies - is an Egyptian

tradition which has survived for thousands of years, although nowadays, in public, pipes tend to be filled with nothing

more than tobacco.  

By contrast, the narcotic blue lotus flower, once so essential at parties, is now on the verge of extinction. And if it could

disappear, why not other drug plants? We decided to persue Balabanova's unusual theory that an ancient species of

tobacco might once have grown in the Old World.  

Small amounts of nicotine are present in a wide variety of plants and foods, but the high concentrations sought by

smokers can only be found in tobacco.  

[Graph showing quantities of nicotine: Concentrations in bone samples - Modern Smoker in nanograms/gram :c40ng

China:c55ng Germany:c65ng Sudan:c45ng Egyptian Mummies:Off screen!]  

The idea of a lost species of tobacco came to Balabanova because the concentrations in the bodies from Asia and Europe

were similar to modern day smokers.  

But one thing had puzzled her. At 35 times the dose for smokers, the amounts of nicotine she had found in Egyptian

mummies were potentially lethal.  

But first, Balabanova was baffled, but then she had a thought. The high doses of nicotine in Egyptian bodies could be

explained if the tobacco - as well as being consumed - had also been used in mummification.  

Over their 3000 year history the Egyptian preists kept the recipe of spices and herbs used to preerve the thousands of

people and millions of animals they mummified a closely guarded secret.  

The high levels of nicotine in tobacco can kill bacteria. Could it have been one of their secrets?  

Balabanova looked through old literature about the bodies of the great Pharaos and queens themselves. No longer under

the care of the preists the fragile royal mummies are now kept in strict atmospheric conditions in the Cairo museum.  

But Balabanova discovered a story from the days when scientists could still tamper with them - a story that had almost

been forgotten.  

Ramses II died in 1213BC, a few hundered years before Henut Taui. When he was mummified, every possible skill and

every rare ingredient was used by the embalmers to try to preserve his body for eternity. For where Henut Tuai was only

a preistess, Ramses was arguably the mightiest of all the Pharaos.  

His imposing image adorns most of Egypts famous sites for he presided over the Golden Age of it's civilisation, and as a

skilled military commander, won the conquests that made it into a powerful empire.  

What interested Balabanova was what happened to Ramses 3000 years later, when he went on his final royal visit.  

"Les chercheurs francais ont realise de nouvelles descouvertes en etudient la momie du pharon Ramses II." [Excerpt from

TV France]  

On september 26th, 1976, amid all the pomp and circumstance - due a visiting head of state - French TV cameras

recorded the arrival of the mummy of Ramses II at an airport in Paris. An exhibition about him at the museum of

mankind was planned.  

But the body was found to be badly deteriorated, so a battery of scientist set about trying to repair this damage.  

The bandages wrapped around the mummy needed replacing, so botanists were given pieces of the fabric to analyse what

it was made of. One found some plant fragments in her piece, and took a closer look. Emerging on the slide, according to

her experience, were the unmistakable features - the tiny crystals and filaments - of a plant that couldn't possibly be there. 

DR MICHELLE LESCOT - Natural History Museum, Paris:

"I prepared the slides, put them under the microscope and what did I see? Tobacco. I said to myself, that's just not

possible - I must be dreaming. The Egyptians didn't have tobacco. It was brought from South America at the time of

Christopher Columbus. I looked again, and I tried to get a better view and I thought, well, it's only a first analysis. I

worked feverishly and I forgot to have lunch that day. But I kept getting the same result."  


Amid a storm of publicity. people alleged - just as they did with Balabanova's results - that this must be a case of

contamination. It's a view shared today by Ramses' keeper at the Cairo museum, who suspects there is a straightforward


PROF NASRI ISKANDER - Chief Curator, Cairo Museum:

"According to my knowledge and experience, most of the archeologists and scientists, who worked on these fields,

smoked pipes. And I myself have been smoking pipes for more than 25 years. Then maybe a piece of the tobacco

dropped by haphazard or just anyway and to tell this is right or wrong we have to be more careful"  


To combat the allegations of careless smoking Michelle Lescot extracted new samples from deep inside the body of

Ramses' mummy and took care to document it with photographs. And as far as she was concerned, these samples again

gave the same result - tobacco.  

So was Lecot's discovery the proof Balabanova needed for an ancient species of tobacco? For a second opinion, we went

to the herbarium at the Natural History Museum to find an expert on tobacco who had seen Lescot's published work. She

argued that Lescot's evidence would only identify the family from which tobacco comes, and not the specific plant.  

DR SANDY KNAPP - Natural History Museum, London:

"I think that they had a certain amount of evidence, and they took the evidence one step farther than the evidence really

allowed them. Sometimes you can only go so far down the road towards telling what something is, and then you come

against a wall an you can't go any farther, otherwise you start to make something up."  


Sandy Knapp thought the plant from Ramses was more likely to be another member of the tobacco family, which is

known to have existed in ancient Egypt, such as henbane, mandrake or belladonna.  

DR SANDY KNAPP - Natural History Museum, London:

"I think it is very unlikely that tobacco has an alternative history, because, I think we would've heard about it. There'd be

some use of it present in either literature, temple carvings, somewhere there would've been evidence to point and say

'Ah, that's tobacco', but there's nothing."  

DR MICHELLE LESCOT - Natural History Museum, Paris:

"I'ts true that the official theory is tobacco originates in South America. It's also true that there are species in Australasia

and the Pacific Islands. There could have been other varieties, ancient varities that once existed in Asia. Why not Africa?

Varieties that have now disappeared so it's not sacrilege to challenge the official theory."  


The jury was still out on the vanished species of tobacco though Michelle Lescot was convinced that her identification

had been correct. But she couldn't help with the cocaine, for it seemed not even one botanist believed in a disappearing

coca plant.  

DR SANDY KNAPP - Natural History Museum, London:

"Finding cocaine in these Egyptian mummies - botanically speaking - is almost impossible. I mean, there is always a

chance that there might be some sort of plant there, but I think there is some sort of mistake. There is something wrong

there. I can't explain it from a plant point of view at all."  


For thousands of years people in the Andes have been chewing coca leaves, to get out the cocaine with it's stimulant,

anaesthetic and euphoric properties. There are actually species of the coca family which grow in Africa, but only the

South American species has ever been shown to contain the drug. Since cocaine is not in any other plants, Balabanova

was completely mystified, but she thought she might have just one possible idea.  

DR SVETLA BALABANOVA - Institute of Forensic Medicine, Ulm:

"The cocaine of course remains an open question. It's a mystery - it's completely unclear how cocaine could get into

Africa. On the other hand, we know there were trade relationships long before Columbus, and it's conceivable that the

coca plant had been imported into Egypt even then."  


An ancient Egyptian drug trade stretching all the way across the Atlantic Ocean? This was an idea so far-fetched it could

only be considered once all the others had been eliminated, the idea that the Egyptians had been able to obtain imports

from a place thousands of miles away from a continent supposedly not discovered until thousands of years later.  

Was it possible that coca - a plant from South America had been finding it's way to Egypt 3,000 years ago?  

If the cocaine found in mummies could not be explained by contamination, or fake mummies or by Egyptian plants

containing it, there appeared to be only one remaining possibility... An international drug trade who's links extended all

the way to the Americas.  

To obtain incense, myrrh and other valuable plants used in religious ceremonies and herbal medicines, it's true, the

Egyptians were prepared to go to great lengths.  

Even if traders, like today, made all sorts of exotic claims for the source of their products, there is, nevertheless, clear

evidence of ancient contats as far east as Syria and Iraq. The extended north into Cyprus, south into Sudan and Somalia

and west into Lybia, but America? To the majority of archeologists, the idea is hardly worth talking about.  

PROF JOHN BAINES - Egyptologist, Oxford University:

"The idea that the Egyptians were travelling to America is, overall, absurd. I don't know of anyone who is professionally

employed as an Egyptologist, anthropologist or archeaologist who seriously believes in any of these possibilities, and I

also don't know anyone who spends time doing research into these areas because they're perceived to be areas with any

real meaning for the subjects."  


But on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, where the moving current of the Gulf Stream arrives in Mexico directly from

the west coast of Africa, there is a professionally-employed anthropologist who does seriously beleive in such


PROF ALICE KEHOE - Anthropologist, Marquette University:

"I think there is good evidence that there was both trans-atlantic and trans-pacific travel before Columbus. When we try

to talk about trans-oceanic contact, people that are standard archeologists get very, um, skittish, and they want to change

the subject or move away. They suddenly see a friend across the room - they don't want to pursue the subject at all. They

seem to feel that it's some kind of contagious disease they don't want to touch, or it will bring disaster to them."  


Why was the mere contemplation of voyages before Columbus or the Viking crossings to America, thought to be some

sort of curse?  

It was in 1910 that some early antropologists began to theorise that the stepped pyramids in Mexico might not have been

the invention of the American Indians. Could the technology have come from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, from

Egypt, where there were also stepped pyramids?  

After spotting other trans-atlantic similarities, anthropologists began to argue that all civilisation was ivented in Egypt and

later handed down to what they regarded as primitive societies. The implication that Old World culture was superior was

thought acceptable at that time.  

But the arrival of modern dating techniques showed that the similarities were far more likely to be independant

developements. For example, the Egyptians abandoned pyramids with steps in favour of smooth ones 2,000 years before

the first stepped pyramids occur in the Americas. What's more, the suggestion that American Indians couldn't build their

own civilisations became highly unpopular.  

Despite a breif revival in the 1970's when anthtropologist Thor Heyerdahl crossed the Atlantic in a primitive reed boat,

research into ancient contact with America was frowned on, even if connected with theories of cultural superiority.  

But the idea that the ability of the ancients to cross the oceans might have been underestimated continues to be quietly

whispered about. Over the years evidence has grown which suggests it might be time to look again at such voyages. To

imagine that the Egyptians, who apparently only sailed up and down the Nile or into the Red Sea, might get as far as the

Americas perhaps sounds fantastical. But in science, what is one day thought absurd, can next day become accepted as


[Picture of a Norse settlement in Newfoundland]  

One senior academic thinks it's important to remember that before the discovery of this Norse settlement in

Newfoundland in 1965 theories about Viking voyages to America were dismissed as nonsense.  

PROF MARTIN BERNAL - Historian, Cornell University:

"What we've seen is a shift from the idea of Viking landings in America being seen as completely fantastic or partisan, to

being accepted by every scholar in the field."  

NARRATOR: The fact that evidence of the Viking crossings was hidden has encouraged Martin Bernal to contemplate

even earlier voyages that are likewise dismissed as impossible.  

PROF MARTIN BERNAL - Historian, Cornell University:

"I have no reason to doubt that there were others - but what they were, and how much influence they had on American

society is open to question. But that trans-oceanic voyages are possible - or were possible - seems to me to be

overwhelmingly likely."  


A likelihood Bernal believes is reinforced by some Roman jars found in 1975 in a place called the Bay of Jars in Brazil.

It's been suggessted that a Roman galley could be buried under the sea. But he interpretation of such finds is heavily


PROF JOHN BAINES - Egyptologist, Oxford University:

"They would fit the possibility that there was the odd ship that by mistake ended up on the other side of the Atlantic.

What they're not going to fit is the idea of sustained two way contact, because there is a huge amount of historical

evidence from the Roman world, but there is nothing to suggesst such contact existed."  

PROF MARTIN BERNAL - Historian, Cornell University:

"They can't have been planted because the bay was known as the Bay of Jars since the 18th century, so that Roman jars

had been turning up, and this links up with indirect Roman documentary evidence of contact."  


The Bay of Jars is only one of several oddities claimed as evidence of trans-atlantic contacts. Also in Brazil, there is an

inscription said to be in an ancient Mediterranean language. Meanwhile, in Mexico, there are 3,000 year old figurines

with beards, a feature unknown in native Americans plus colossal statues that are said to look African, and an apparent

picture of a pineapple - an American fruit - has been found in Pompeii.  

But if tobacco from Mexico or coca from the Andes was carried across an ocean, it apparently need not have been the

Atlantic. According to Alice Kehoe, a number of other American plants mysteriously turn up outside the "sealed"

continent. But they are found on the other side of the Pacific.  

PROF ALICE KEHOE - Anthropologist, Marquette University:

"The one that absolutely proves trans-pacific vaoyaging is the sweet potato. There are also discoveries of peanuts more

than 2,000 years ago in western China. There is a temple is southern India that has sculptures of goddesses holding what

looks like ears of maize or corn."  


And if American maize might have got as far as India, why couldn't tobacco or coca have reached Egypt? They could

have come across the Pacific to China or Asia and then overland to Africa. The Egyptians need not have travelled to

America at all, or known where the plants had originated, but could have got them indirectly, through a network of world

trade. But any ancient trade route that includes America is unacceptable in archeology.  

PROF JOHN BAINES - Egyptologist, Oxford University:

"I don't think it is at all likely that there was an ancient trade network that included America. The essential problem with

any such idea is that there are no artefacts to back it up that have been found either in Europe or in America. And I know

that people produce examples of possible things, but they're really very implausible."  


Yet discovery of minute strands of silk found in the hair of a mummy from Luxor could suggest the trade stretching from

Egypt to the Pacific. For silk at this time was only known to come from China. Martin Bernal argues that it would be a

pity to replace earlier cultural arrogance with an arrogant belief in progrss.  

PROF MARTIN BERNAL - Historian, Cornell University:

"We're getting more and more evidence of world trade at an earlier stage. You have the Chinese silk definitely arriving in

Egypt by 1000BC. I think modern scholars have a tendency to believe rigidly in progress and the idea that you could

only have a worldwide trading network from the 18th century onwards, is our temporal arrogance - that it's only modern

people that can do these things."  


The evidence for ancient trade with America is limited, and most of it is disputed, but it can't be completely ruled out as

explaining the apparent impossibility of Balabanova's results, results that at first seemed so absurd many thought they

would be explained away by a simple story of a botch-up in a lab, results that still without firm explanation continue to

crop up in unexpected places.  

For in Manchester, the mummies under the care of Rosalie David, the Egyptologist once so sure that Balabanova had

made a mistake, produced some odd results of their own.  

ROSALIE DAVID - Keeper of Egyptology, Manchester Museum:

"We've received results back from the tests on our mummy tissue samples and two of the samples and the one hair

sample both have evidence of nicotine in them. I'm really very surprised at this."  

DR SVETLA BALABANOVA - Institute of Forensic Medicine, Ulm:

"The results of the tests on the Manchester mummies have made me very happy after all these years of being accuesed of

false results and contaminated results, so I was delighted to hear nicotine had been found in these mummies, and very,

very happy to have this enormous confirmation of my work."  


The tale of Henut Taui shows that in science facts can be rejected if they don't fit with our beleifs while what is believed

proven, may actually be uncertain.  

Little wonder then, that a story that began with one scientist, a few mummies and some routine tests, in no time at all

could upset whole areas of knowledge we thought we could take for granted.  


                                by Rand & Rose Flem-Ath

                                  Originally published by New Dawn in 1998  

                        In the movie, Contact, Jodie Foster plays an astronomer who establishes

                communication with a civilization beyond our solar system. In a recent

                television program, The Curse of the Cocaine Mummies, a different, but

                equally fascinating, contact is established between ancient Egypt and ancient

                Peru. It seems that Ramses II was a cocaine user and that means that he must

                have had a supplier from across the Atlantic!  

                        The idea of ancient transoceanic contact between the Old and New

                Worlds before Columbus (other than the Vikings) is simply not acceptable

                within the tightly controlled halls of academia.  Professor John Baines, an

                Egyptologist at Oxford is a typical case. He calls the idea of ancient

                transoceanic trade "absurd" and bolsters his "argument" by noting that

                he doesn't know any professional Egyptologists, anthropologists or

                archaeologists who are "seriously" researching the idea. This is because,

                he says, the idea is not "perceived" to have "any real meaning for the subjects."  

                        Professor Baines' view reminds us of the priests who refused to look

                through Galileo's telescope to see the blemishes on the Moon because this

                revelation did not conform to their preconceived ideas of reality.  Academia

                is geared to not  looking at the problem. This ostrich approach has predictable

                results: results that do not necessarily have any bearing upon the quest for

               truth and in fact, impede the search.  

                        The simple fact that we find sun-worshiping civilizations building

                pyramids, obelisks and preserving their dead by wrapping them in cloth

                (mummies) on both sides of the Atlantic is rarely even discussed within the

                archaeological and anthropological journals despite the fact that every

                child when first confronted with the facts raises the obvious question

                "why?" For four hundred of the past five hundred years scholars have

                puzzled over the facts. Three theories emerged yet only one survives today.  

                        Cortes's secretary was one of the first to put forward the idea that

                both Old and New Worlds were remnants of an even older "lost" civilization.

                The "Aztlan" of ancient Mexico and the "Atlantis" of ancient Egypt, he

                argued, were one and the same. With this simple idea the commonalites

                between buildings, culture and mythologies of the ancient people of Mexico,

                Peru and Egypt could all be explained as "echoes" of a lost world.  

                        The second theory presented was the idea that Mexico and Peru were

                settled by people from the Old World who already possessed the skills

                needed to build pyramids and preserve bodies. Most argued that they came

                from ancient Egypt but others suggest the Sumerians, people of ancient India,

                the Phoenicians and even the Templars from France. Again, a simple idea was

                used to explain an obvious problem.  

                        The third theory, was the idea of "separate development." Here the

                focus is upon "how" people arrived in the Americas rather than upon the

                impressions of the Europeans following Columbus' "discovery" of the New

                World.  Although this is the more complicated of the theories - thus violating

                the scientific principle of Occum's Razor (so beautifully articulated in Contact)

                that when confronted by conflicting theories for an unexplained phenomena one

                should prefer the simpler explanation, it is, nevertheless, the only theory that

                is considered scholarly in today's universities.  

                        It is within this context that we must watch The Curse of the Cocaine

                Mummies.  Cocaine and tobacco are plants that originated in America and

                were unknown to the Old World if we are to believe the traditional paradigm.

                The first tear in the fabric of the dogma came on the 16th of September 1976

                when the mummified remains of Ramses II arrived at the Museum of Mankind

                in Paris. To repair the damage to the mummie, a scientific team was assembled

                which included Dr. Michelle Lescot of the Natural History Museum (Paris).

                She received fragments from the bandages and found a plant fragment ensnared

                within the fibres. When she looked at it under a microscope she was amazed to

                discover that the plant was tobacco. Fearing that she had made some mistake  she

                repeated her tests again and again with the same result every time: a New World

                plant had been found on an Old World mummie. The results, little known in

                North America, caused a sensation in Europe.  

                        Professor Nasri Iskander, the Chief Curator at the Cairo Museum

                thought he had an explanation. As an avid pipe smoker he argued that

                "maybe a piece of tobacco dropped by haphazard" from the pipe of some

                forgotten archaeologist. Dr. Lescot responded to this charge of "contamination"

                by carefully extracting new samples from Ramses II's abdomen, all the while

                having others photograph the process. These samples which could not possibly

                be "droppings" were then tested and once again were established to be tobacco.  

                        The discovery of tobacco fragments in the mummiefied body of

                Ramses II should have had a profound influence upon our whole understanding

                of the relationship between ancient Egypt and America but this piece of

                evidence was simply ignored.  Then, sixteen years later, again quite by accident,

                more evidence emerged. In 1992, toxicologist, Dr. Svetla Balabanova of the

                Institute of Forensic Medicine in Ulm (Germany) tested the ancient Egyptian

                mummified remains of Henut-Tawy, Lady of the Two Lands. The results came

                as a "shock" to this scientist who regularly used the identical testing methods

                to convict people of drug consumption. She had not expected to find nicotine

                and cocaine in an ancient Egyptian mummie. She repeated the tests and sent

                out fresh samples to three other labs. When the results came back positive she

                published a paper with two other scientists. (Balabanova, S., F. Parsche and

                W. Pirsig, "First Identification of Drugs in Egyptian Mummies", Naturwissenschaften

                79, 358 (1992) Springer-Verlag 1992.)  

                        If Balabanova was surprised by the results of her tests she was even

                more surprised at the vitriolic response to her publication. She received a

                flood of letters threatening, insulting and accusing her of fraud. When she

                reminded her critics that she was simply applying the very same techniques

                that she had used for years in police work where her results were considered

                "proof positive" her critics didn't seem to care. She was condemned as a "fraud."  

                      Dr. Rosalie David, Keeper of Egyptology, Manchester Museum took

                up the challenge of investigating the "cocaine mummies" which she thought

                "seemed quite impossible." She began by sending tissue and hair samples from

                her museum out to labs. She was working on the dual assumption that one of

                two things are true:  

                        1. Balabanova's tests were compromised ; or

                        2. The mummie was not truly ancient" (i.e. it was fake).  

                Dr. David flew to Munich to review the techniques and excavation records to

                see if the body, which had originally been purchased by King Ludwig I of

                Bavaria was genuine or not.  

                Dr. Alfred Grimm, the Curator of The Egyptian Museum in Munich said

                that "the Munich mummies are real Egyptian mummies. No fakes. No

                modern mummies. They came from ancient Egypt." After spending days

                pouring over the documentation associated with the "cocaine mummie"

                Dr. David relented saying: " it seems evident that they are probably genuine…"

                When she returned to Manchester she discovered that her own Museum's

                mummies had traces of tobacco. Dr. David said: "I'm really very surprised at


                        Dr. Balabanova's work had been validated by the test results from

                Manchester but she was now hooked on the problem and began collecting

                samples of naturally preserved bodies housed in museums all around Europe.

                She obtained 134 separate bodies taken from ancient Sudan dating to a time

                long before Columbus or the Vikings. One third of these bodies contained

                both nicotine and cocaine.  

                        The exciting realization that there was certainly contact between

                ancient Peru and ancient Egypt has now been established. The cocaine

                mummies from Egypt and Sudan have changed the rules of this controversial

                game.  There is no longer a warrant to exclude the hypothesis of transoceanic

                trade in ancient times.  

                        Is the principle of Occum's Razor only to be applied when the outcome

                is safely assured to confirm to traditional dogma about theories of the past?

                It appears so. The cocaine mummies jumped the tracks of long established

                views.  Despite overwhelming evidence we still find ourselves in the last

                decade of the twentieth century dealing with a 'scientific' establishment that

                ridicules its own members and refuses to look at the results of its own

                principles if the results don't confirm the favorite views of the reigning


                        One step forward. Two back.  

              Sources:  "Curse of the Cocaine Mummies" written and directed by

                              Sarah Marris. (Producers: Hilary Lawson, Maureen Lemire

                              and narrated by Hilary Kilberg) A TVF Production for

                              Channel Four in association with the Discovery Channel. 1997.  

                              (Balabanova, S., et al; "First Identification of Drugs in Egyptian

                              Mummies," Naturwissenschaften, 79:358, 1992. Cr. B. Rudersdorf)

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                                Toke Like an Egyptian 

                             Commentary on the Cocaine Mummies  

                                  from Fortean Times Magazine 




A bright idea lead to an unprecidented experiment at the Munich Museum. It was the early 1990s. No-one

had thought to test an Egyptian mummy for drugs before. No-one had thought it worth the trouble. The

wealth of documents remaining from ancient Egypt frequently bring up the effects of excesses of beer

and wine, but mention no other drugs. 

By 1992, however, thought had begun changing. Egyptologists suspected the use of opium. And a

growing minority had begun to reinterpret the lotus motif ubiquitous in Egyptian art. Instead of purely

symbolic, it may have indicated its use as an intoxicant. Perhaps there would be something there to find.

So the Munich Museum turned to Svetlana Balabanova, a well- respected pathologist associated with the

University of Ulm. She took samples of hair, bone and soft tissue from the museum's nine mummies.

She tested the samples using radioimmunoassay and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry,

common tests used to detect chemicals in a sample.Her results were surprising. So surprising that she

sent samples to three independent labs to confirm them. There was no opium, no lotus. But many of the

samples contained traces of nicotine and cocaine. The levels were low, but Balabanova believed they

must have dropped over the centuries. If her interpretation was right, the levels originally equaled those in

modern smokers and cocaine users. But, the only concentrated source of nicotine is tobacco, and

cocaine is found only in the coca plant. Both are New World plants, and are generally considered to have

been unknown elsewhere before 1492. The Munich mummies lived hundreds to thousands of years

earlier. It just didn't make sense. 

Balabanova was intrigued and found more mummies to test. Since 1992, she has tested hundreds of

mummies from Egypt, Sudan, China and Germany ranging from 800 to 3000 years of age. Nicotine

showed up everywhere in an average of a third of the mummies from each site. Her findings have

appeared in ten articles in medical and archeological journals. Recently, other labs have begun testing

Egyptian mummies and finding nicotine. Three samples from the Manchester Museum revealed traces of

the drug1, as have fourteen samples taken directly from an archeological dig near Cairo. 

One might think that such surprising findings would cause an uproar in the Egyptological community. In

fact, beyond Balabanova's pathology results, there has not been one publication on the subject in the last

six years. Few archeologists are even willing to discuss the issue. Of the nearly two dozen Egyptologists

contacted for this article, only three agreed to talk about it-only two on the record. Those who are willing

do so only to state the case against the findings. 

Paul Manuelian, an Egyptologist at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, points to the contents of Egyptian

tombs and the paintings on their walls. These included representations of everything the tomb's

occupant would need in their next life including such luxuries as beer and opium. But not one tobacco or

coca leaf has ever been found. The ancient Egyptians were not shy about their drug use.

Representations of alcohol and lotus are common. But there are none of Egyptians using tobacco or


This, Egyptologists say, is conclusive evidence. If not in itself, then certainly in conjunction with a rich

archeological record completely devoid of traces of the drugs. The tests must be wrong. They suggest

that the samples must have been contaminated with the drugs in the lab, or the mummies during

excavation, or, uncharitably, the laboratory staff while performing the tests.Those tests are the same used

daily in courts of law. Dozens of studies attest to their accuracy on the living and recently dead, but what

about ancient mummies? 

Larry Cartmell, Clinical Laboratory Director at the Valley View Hospital in Aida, Oklahoma and amateur

archeologist, has been testing South American mummies for nicotine and cocaine for over a decade.

"There is no way to be sure the tests are accurate," he says, "because you can't get historical evidence

from the mummies." That is, you can't ask the mummy how much he smokes or if he chews coca leaves.

However, his results match well with the cultural evidence. Some mummies are found buried with bags

of coca leaves or with a wad of leaves still in their cheek. These mummies test positive for cocaine.

Mummies from cultures in which coca isn't important usually don't. Just about everyone tests positive for

nicotine. Given the importance of tobacco throughout South American this should come as no surprise. 

The levels of nicotine and cocaine Cartmell has found in his South American mummies fall at the low

end of what one might see in a modern smoker or cocaine user. This suggests that the drugs remain

fairly stable in hair and other tissues over the centuries, decaying only very slowly. 

Balabanova has tested one group of Peruvian mummies. The levels of cocaine she found in a few of

them were similar to Cartmell's results. 

Oddly, she found cocaine in only one other group of mummies, her very first batch from the Munich

Museum. Their levels were much lower. The Munich mummies are not a homogenous group; their ages

and origins vary widely. No other Old World mummies have revealed cocaine. It would be remarkable if

these and only these mummies were exposed to the drug and then coincidentally gathered in Munich. A

simpler explanation is that they were exposed during modern times after being brought together at the

museum. Pathologists don't fully understand how drugs are absorbed into hair, and nobody has even

tried to determine if ancient hair can do so. If it can, perhaps these results can best be explained by

someone doing cocaine in the Munich Museum mummy room. 

Balabanova's nicotine results may not be so amenable to simple explanation. The levels she has found

range from nothing up to the lowest levels accepted as proof of smoking in modern hair. Most of her

results are typical of environmental exposure. Many common food plants-tomatoes, potatoes,

aubergines-contain low levels of nicotine. Small amounts build up in the body just through diet and are

detectable using the standard tests. 

The mummies with the highest levels, however, are difficult to explain environmentally. A study done by a

team led by Helen Dimich-Ward in Vancouver, Canada showed comprable levels only in people who

were exposed to heavy second hand smoke in their workplaces. Also, the majority of food plants

containing nicotine are New World plants inaccessible to the ancient Egyptians. 

Other tests Balabanova performed further complicate the picture. She tested a number of modern

smokers, killed in car crashes, and compared the relative levels of nicotine in their hair and bones with

the same tests done on her mummies. While the modern smokers had between 40 and 50 times as

much nicotine in their hair than in their bones, her mummies' ratio averaged at only twice as much.

Balabanova interprets this result as meaning the original mummy nicotine levels were much higher.

While the hair allowed nicotine to decay away, the bone retained the drug far better. If this is true, then the

levels she detected were originally 20 to 25 times higher, which would bring them in line with modern


There are several difficulties with this. The first has already been mentioned: the stability of nicotine found

by Cartmell. The difference in the two pathologists' results can't be explained as being due to differering

lab techniques. Cartmell recently found nicotine levels similar to Balabanova's results in fourteen

Egyptian mummies. And Balabanova's nicotine results for Peruvian mummies she tested agree well with

Cartmell's for a similar group.A second difficulty also stems from Cartmell's work. Despite several

attempts to detect nicotine in mummified bone, he has yet to get a positive result. The samples he used

were each taken from mummies with very high nicotine levels in their hair. While he used a different

extraction technique than Balabanova, he feels that if there was nicotine there, he would have seen it. The

two disparate results stand in stalemate; neither reliable without independent confirmation. 

Third is the wide range of nicotine levels Balabanova has found. The highest are already at the lower

limits of a modern smokers' results. If they are multiplied with the others, they become unreasonably

high. Third is the wide range of nicotine levels Balabanova has found. Three of the Egyptian mummies

she has tested have nicotine levels in their bones many times greater than those seen in modern

smokers. The lethally high levels made her suspect that nicotine may not have been ingested. Instead,

they may have been used as part of the embalming process. The idea makes some sense; nicotine in

high levels has a preservative and insecticidal effect that would be useful in mummification. According to

Lise Manniche in her Ancient Egyptian Herbal, compositae, a plant containing trace levels of nicotine,

was used as part of the mummification of Ramses II. If even relatively low levels of nicotine were used in

embalming, the multiplied results for the original levels in the hair would be wildly exagerated. In addition

to those three mummies, Balabanova found several more with fairly high levels of nicotine in their hair.

The highest are already at the lower limits of a modern smokers' results. If they are multiplied with the

others, they become unreasonably high. Still, the lack of confirmation of Balabanova's results is not

necessarily invalidation. And even if most of her results are explicable as environmental exposure, there

are still those few high-nicotine mummies, including one tested at that level by Cartmell, to account for. 

Perhaps, as the Egyptologists accuse, they are contaminated or fakes. Some mummies excavated in the

19th century were exposed to tobacco smoke, but most recently excavated mummies never get the

chance. The common picture of an Egyptological dig includes an Egyptologist in pith helmet and khakis,

pipe in hand. Today, however, every effort is made to avoid contamination of a find. The vast majority of

modern museums and labs are also smoke-free zones. Importantly, both Balabanova and Cartmell have

found that nicotine levels in samples that have been excavated and stored together vary widely. The

differences must have originated during the mummies' lifetimes. 

That does leave possibility that the mummies are fakes. This is only plausable, though, for a few. Most of

the mummies were formed naturally, dried by the heat of the desert sands where they were

buried-unlikely subjects for hoaxes. Of the artificial mummies, most are well documented-tracked from

tomb to display case. Even for those without their papers, fraud is difficult. Ancient Egyptian embalming

styles varied like any other fashion. A trained Egyptologist can examine the mummy's bandaging,

ornaments and preparation and name its age and origin like a car buff picking out make and model from

a look at the styling. 

So if the mummies and the drugs in their bodies are real can this fit with the lack of written evidence?

There does seem to be a hole or two in the archeological record where nicotine might just slip in. The

lack of remains and representation in Egyptian tombs is strong evidence against nicotine's recreational

use, but not medical use. The ancient Egyptians believed that their afterlife bodies would be perfect

versions of the ones they had in life. Without disease or injury, the dead had no need for medicines. So

they were not included in the tombs. 

For the living, Emily Teeter, Associate Curator at Chicago's Oriental Institute Museum says, we have a

good record of preserved medical texts and prescriptions. Many of the ingredients, however, while we

know their Egyptian names, remain unidentified. Unless a bit of residue is discovered in a labeled bowl,

there is no firm way to link ingredient to name. Teeter stresses that there is no reason to assume that any

of the names refer to an unknown drug. But the possibility is there. 

The record is far scantier for folk medicines. No culture is without them, but for the ancient Egyptians they

were an oral tradition, never recorded in writing. If nicotine was used, there would be far less evidence to

find. Ingredients used, though says Teeter, would probably be local and common. The small number of

high-nicotine mummies and, of course, the lack of archeological evidence, seem to argue against

tobacco growing wild in the streets. If nicotine was used as a medicine, how was it obtained? Three

possible scenarios seem to fit the data: 1) trade with South America 2) a previously unknown Old World

species of tobacco existed, but died out before modern times or 3) the nicotine came from some other


Beyond the pathology results, there is little to nothing to support the idea of Egyptian trade with the New

World. The Egyptians were, according to Teeter, 'famously bad sailors.' They managed to circumnavigate

Africa, but only by staying within sight of the coast. They were incapable of crossing the Mediterranean, far

less the Atlantic. If they used an intermediary to make the trip, one would expect far more and far more

widespread evidence. Even if the Egyptians weren't interested in using cocaine and tobacco as

recreational drugs, others of the trader's clients would be. Plant remains and records would trace the

route the traders took. Despite diligent searches by those enamored of the idea of pre-Columbian

contact, nothing of the sort has been found. 


NOTES 1. In 1996, three samples from mummies in the Manchester Museum were tested for drugs as

part of an Equinox documentary 'The Mystery Of The Cocaine Mummies'. The lab doing the tests was

unidentified in the show, but in "Egypt Uncovered" by Vivian Davis and Renne Friedman was named as

Medimass Labs. Manchester Museum declined to comment for this article. A search of the

Manchester phone book revealed no lab by that name and further extensive searching turned up no

more information about the company. So beyond the fact reported in the documentary that the

mummies tested positive for nicotine, the precise levels remain unknown. 

                 The full text of William Jacobs article appears in Fortean Times 117. 

                           Archaelogical Enigmas

                                   from Ancient Egypt


Did the ancient Egyptians regularly ingest cannabis, coca and tobacco? New studies and cautious

re-evaluation of older findings provide some hard evidence to support this shocking claim.  

Tainted Evidence?  

When the mummified remains of Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses the Great (reign 1213 BC) was brought to

Paris in 1976, a team of Euro-scholars flocked to the Museum of Mankind to study the celebrity corpse.

Ramses ruled Egypt for over 60 years at the height of empirical splendor. During his reign Egypt saw the

construction of megamonuments, warfare and trade with Asia, and luxury and tranquility on a scale

humans have yet to surpass.  





                                                                                       a sample



                                                                                       and Dr



                                                                                       from the


                                                                                       of Natural

                                                                                       History in

                                                                                       Paris was

                                                                                       granted a



                                                                                       from the




                                                                                       (linen) to







                                                                                       specks of



to the fibres, and duly reported her findings. Lescott was advised by senior colleagues that she had

observed "contamination from modern sources", perhaps some old time archaeologist puffing away on

his pipe or a workman sneezing into the Godking's face. Tobacco, it was said, would not even arrive in

Egypt for another 2700 years. Nice try, she was told, but that was sloppy work.  

Enter Dr Svelta Balabanova, forensic toxologist at the institute of forensic medicine at ULM, who followed

up Dr Lescott's report that tobacco and other drugs were found in context with a 3000 year old body. Dr

Balabanova obtained samples of Ramses the Great, not mere skin and cloth, but intestinal tissue from

deep inside the body. Any traces of drugs found in these samples would eliminate the possibility of

contemporary contamination.  

Dr Balabanova is a professional, and has received full police training for her work in forensic analysis.

She is, ironically, the pioneer procedural test pilot who developed many of the ultrasensitive drug tests

that are today's standards in establishing the premise of drug ingestion in professional sports and

industry. Her yes or no is eagerly awaited to qualify a photo finish or a loyalty pledge, and she is very

experienced in detecting such vulgar molecules that are characteristic of cannabis, coca and tobacco.  

In 1982 she re-tested Ramses tissue, and declared that she had discovered the presence of cannabis,

coca and tobacco, laid down in the body cells like rings on a tree. Still, her colleagues were hesitant to

believe the test results, even from such a credible researcher.  

48 Centuries of Nicotine  

A decade later in Munich, 1992, euroresearchers undertook a project to study ancient human remains

and establish a network of specialists who could each impart their special insight and knowledge to the

rest of the team, in the hope of obtaining a better overview of the life and death of the subjects. The

sensational discovery of the Bronze Age "Alpine Ice Man" a few years before had attracted wide attention

to archeocadavers, and the team hoped to be ready in case some other ancient human body turned up.  

To prepare, the team arranged to have seven ancient Egyptian mummies flown from the Cairo Museum

to Munich, where these "warm up specimens" would be minutely studied and samples sent to a list of

qualified investigators.  

Samples of the seven mummies were dispatched to Dr Balabanova, who conducted a series of gas

chromatography tests that revealed the presence of nicotine and cocaine in all seven mummies. Other

Egyptologists in the UK heard of this, and travelled to Germany to inspect the mummies to make certain

they were indeed ancient people, and not dried up old junkies pawned off on a bunch of know-it-all white

bureaucrats. The mummies were deemed authentic, and the test results were entirely credible.  

Rosalie David, curator of Egyptology at the Manchester Museum, examined the mummies and Dr

Balabanova's analysis. David explained "the ancient Egyptians certainly used drugs. As well as lotus,

they had mandrake, and cannabisÉ there is a strong suggestion that they also used opiumÉ" Initially,

David had great doubts about Balabanova's report, but became convinced after personally looking into

these shocking claims of analysis.  

As the controversy rages in the halls of science, Dr Balabanova continues her work analyzing tissue from

ancient humans from around the world. She examined hundreds of subjects, prepared over 3000

samples for drug analysis, and found evidence of "divine plants" residuals in a vast majority of the


Compiling her evidence with other ancient autopsies from China, Germany and Austria, she had a

human inventory, dated from 3700 BC to 1100 AD, a span of 48 centuries. Some bodies from every

region and time zone were found to contain nicotine, and at a concentration that suggests a lifelong

pattern of regular ingestion.  

Magic Plant Intercontinental  

If indeed the beef-jerky body of Ramses the Great is laced with the residues of "New World magic plants"

such as tobacco and coca, as well as "far Eastern Asian cannabis" (none of which is native to Egypt, or

believed to have been cultivated there in ancient times), then we may be inclined to renovate our

perception of ancient history with this forensic evidence at hand. Science will have to disprove this drug

report, and failing that, they will have to accommodate these hard earned, well documented new facts

concerning the production and world trade of magic plants during the remote part of human history.  

First, admit that classic "magic plants" have been an aspect of human existence for a very, very long time.

Their primary role in consciousness enhancement will doubtless carry on in some dimension for many

centuries to come.  

Second, these magic plants were not native to Egypt, yet must have been featured in commerce for them

to have been ingested. It may be therefore implied that Egypt obtained these plants in trade with far flung

urbanity from all over the ancient world. Prepare to warm up to the plausible notion of intercontinental

cultural contact that was either sustained, or else in play to some extent during every phase of human


It is one thing to suggest mystic overtures when there is a drought of evidence, and another thing

altogether to transpose very human motivations upon our ancient kin. The hustle to bring high-end

goodies to Main Street, whenever and wherever the current hot address may be, continues to be a factor

of historical continuity. Fun and function are eternal trade strategies that work as well now as they did


Ramses the Great Trader  

Ramses the Great was a Godking, he won no election to gain control over Egypt. He fathered 100

children over a 67 year reign of pomp and PR that has not since been duplicated, not even in California.

He built a full-sized "off limits" royal city for his enormous family and court, and had beautiful pleasure

gardens and orchards planted within. He divided his private city into four quarters, with a presiding deity

over each quarter. The Eastern Sector was dedicated to the Syrian Goddess Astarte, installed at the last

minute to satisfy a vogue for Asian deities ? and their zonky sensual personalities. Note that the worship

of Astarte was often associated with the ritual use of cannabis in the Ancient world.  

The stability that Ramses projected inspired Egyptians to re-assert their aims of world trade, and several

voyages of discovery followed. It is very likely that the Godking established trade and contact with other

centers of civilization and swapped toys with other Godkings who could boast shimmering cities, sleek

trade fleets and a degree of ritualized social code.  

From Mexico, the Aztek/Toltek Godkings would have sacred tobacco to share. From South America, the

divine coca leaf, and from South East Asia, the dreamy cannabis resin. All of these drugs were regarded

as the special reserve for the divine rulers in the realms where these plants originated.  

Tobacco and coca contain potent alkaloids that can be preserved almost indefinitely. Cannabis, which

does not develop psychoactive alkaloids, instead produces a euphoric resin that can be stored without

losing potency for a very long time (Hashish from an ancient shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea was

found to be potent when tested, more than 2000 years later!)  

Professor Martin Bernal, historian at Cornell University, is one of the new breed of scientists who are

willing to consider magic plants and ancient trade links. "We're getting more and more evidence of world

trade at an earlier stage." He points out the discovery of a single strand of Chinese silk mingled in the

hair of an Egyptian mummy, 12,000 years old. Silk was very rare in China at that point of history ? only the

Emperors wore it. How did silk get to Egypt? How did drugs get to Egypt? How do drugs get anywhere

that people live?  

This story is not yet finished, and the outcome may well overturn some of the narrower visions of how

humans go about a human experience on this world.  

By Dr Alexander Sumach