Prehistoric Peyote Use: Alkaloid Analysis and Radiocarbon Dating of Archaeological Specimens of Lophophora From Texas

J Ethnopharmacol. 2005 Oct 3;101(1-3):238-42. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2005.04.022.

Abstract

Two archaeological specimens of peyote buttons, i.e. dried tops of the cactus Lophophora williamsii (Lem.) Coulter, from the collection of the Witte Museum in San Antonio, was subjected to radiocarbon dating and alkaloid analysis. The samples were presumably found in Shumla Cave No. 5 on the Rio Grande, Texas. Radiocarbon dating shows that the calibrated 14C age of the weighted mean of the two individual dated samples corresponds to the calendric time interval 3780-3660 BC (one sigma significance). Alkaloid extraction yielded approximately 2% of alkaloids. Analysis with thin-layer chromatography (TLC) and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) led to the identification of mescaline in both samples. No other peyote alkaloids could be identified. The two peyote samples appear to be the oldest plant drug ever to yield a major bioactive compound upon chemical analysis. The identification of mescaline strengthens the evidence that native North Americans recognized the psychotropic properties of peyote as long as 5700 years ago.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids / analysis*
  • Archaeology*
  • Cactaceae / chemistry
  • Carbon Radioisotopes
  • Mescaline / analysis*

Substances

  • Alkaloids
  • Carbon Radioisotopes
  • Mescaline