Subject: ancient tobacco in New and Old world From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Yuri Kuchinsky) Date: 1997/05/22 Message-ID: <email@example.com> Newsgroups: sci.archaeology,sci.archaeology.mesoamerican,sci.agriculture,sci. bio.misc,sci.bio.botany,sci.skeptic Greetings, all. Recently there's been some interest expressed here in the theories that tobacco was in the Old World before Columbus. So I looked into this matter, and here's what I've been able to find out so far. I think most readers of these groups will be surprised to learn that the idea that tobacco was in the Old World before Columbus seems actually now to be GENERALLY ACCEPTED by the botanists! (Although not for the reasons that you might think...) You see, botanists think tobacco was in the New World early because... it was native (in a manner of speaking) to the Old World! Specifically, to Australia. So botanists now believe that tobacco was present in Australia before Columbus because it was "native" to Australia. Also, tobacco is believed to have been present on some Polynesian islands before Columbus. The case for Indonesia and New Guinea is probable, although less certain. I'm basing this on TOBACCOS, by S. Feinhandler et al., in ECONOMIC BOTANY 33:213-226, 1979 This article has a detailed discussion of the age of tobacco in the Old World. At the same time, botanists still think that tobacco was native to America -- but it got to Australia millions of years ago! How did it get to Australia? On this there's less consensus, but many think that a landbridge between S. America and Australia existed and is responsible. Here are some quotes from that article: "Thomas Goodspeed (1954) argued that one sub-genus of tobacco, _Petunioides_, had spread from South America to Australia long before any possible residence of human beings in the Pacific. ... Thus, various species of tobacco were already growing wild when people first arrived in New Guinea and Australia and probably the Melanesian islands. Goodspeed's evidence is convincing, and his theory eventually became accepted a standard in botany. (pp. 213-4)" "We know that tobacco was native to Australia and some parts of Melanesia and Polynesia when Europeans and Malays reached them." (p. 219) The authors of that article believe that tobacco arrived to Australia from South America by a landbridge that existed millions of years ago. "The land bridge lasted until about 40 million years ago." (p. 218) "...tobacco is only one of perhaps twenty genera of plants which crossed from S. America to Australia, or nearby, during what appears to be the same epoch..." (ibid.) Nevertheless, the authors indicate that Australia-South America ancient landbridge theory was/is still considered somewhat controversial. (The article, of course, was written quite a few years ago, and I'm not sure what is the present view of this theory.) ======= So far, I have not mentioned transoceanic travel in ancient times and how this may have affected the distribution of tobacco around the world. It seems entirely reasonable to me that if tobacco was present in Indonesia early on it would have probably spread to India and other parts of the Old World before Columbus. The antiquity of tobacco in the Old World was advocated early in this century by, among others, Leo Wiener who even claimed to find some linguistic connections between the words for tobacco in America and the Middle East. A lot of his research is outdated by now. For a more recent bibliography and a defense of the thesis that tobacco was known widely in the Old World before Columbus, see THE ANTIQUITY OF TOBACCO (NICOTIANA TOBACCUM) IN INDIA, by Jaweed Ashraf, INDICA 22/2:91-101, 1985 This journal is published in Bombay, India. Unfortunately U. of Toronto libraries stopped subscribing to this publication years ago, and don't have a copy of this article. Perhaps someone else can check it out? So it seems quite possible to me that tobacco was known in the Middle East and in Europe before Columbus. Below, you will find some interesting bits of tobacco trivia that I picked up from the article in ECONOMIC BOTANY. Rodrigo de Jerez, the first European to set foot on Cuban soil, was also the first man to be arrested and imprisoned for smoking by the Spanish Inquisition (Curtis M. M., THE STORY OF SNUFF AND SNUFF BOXES, 1935). When he was released several years later, Rodrigo found that smoking was permitted. (p. 220) (The dates of his arrest and release are not entirely clear.) 1558 -- First tobacco grown in the Royal Garden in Lisbon. This is "a leading candidate for the earliest date for the diffusion of cultivated tobacco by Iberians." (p. 221) Australian tribes never smoke but only chew tobacco. It is likely that they domesticated tobacco independently. Best wishes, Yuri. Yuri Kuchinsky | "Where there is the Tree of Knowledge, there -=- | is always Paradise: so say the most ancient in Toronto | and the most modern serpents." F. Nietzsche ----- my webpage is for now at: http://www.io.org/~yuku ----- _________________________________________________________________Click here to go one level up in the directory.