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The Talk of TROY: Professor discusses groundbreaking tobacco discovery

July 6, 2018

North Americans have been smoking for much longer than we originally thought, according to anthropology professor Stephen Carmody.

“Eight, nine years ago, when I started this project,” Carmody said, “the oldest evidence of tobacco use was about 2,000 years ago. We have pipes that are 5,000 years old. Maybe even older than that. So there was this pretty substantial gap.”

And Carmody’s research shows that once settlers in North America adopted tobacco and realized its value, they were happy to share it with family and friends in the countries where they came from.

“When Europeans came, they didn’t know quite clearly what the plant was because tobacco doesn’t grow in the old world,” Carmody said. “They refer to tobacco as the only gift from the new world to the old world.”

This historical find also lights a fire under future researchers now that we understand just how important tobacco has been to society’s development and progress.

“It kind provides a spark of curiosity for people who have never thought about tobacco and the importance that it played in the past to maybe think about that,” says Carmody, “to understand that it’s always had a special place in society whether it’s today or four or five thousand years ago.”

Stephen Carmody’s work on the history of tobacco, as well as that of his colleagues, has been published in the June edition of The Journal of Archaeological Science.

The Talk of TROY is a production of TROY Public Radio, a listener supported service of Troy University.