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2 December 2010
Coca leaf use started 8,000 years ago

South Americans were chewing coca leaves at least 8,000 years ago, an international team of researchers has discovered. The researchers, who were led by Dr. Tom Dillehay of the Vanderbilt University Department of Anthropology, discovered and dated coca leaves beneath house floors in the Nanchoc Valley of Peru. Dillehay and colleague also discovered fragments of calcite, which according to the researchers was used by chewers to bring out the alkaloids from the leaves.
     "Excavation and chemical analysis at a group of neighboring sites suggests that specialists were beginning to extract and supply lime or calcite, and by association coca, as a community activity at about the same time as systematic farming was taking off in the region," they added. This discovery shows that people were using coca at least 3,000 years earlier than first believed.
     The alkaloids contained in coca leaves can serve as mild stimulants, can reduce hunger, can help the digestive process, and can help individuals overcome the effects of high-altitude, low-oxygen environments. "We found it not so much in a household context, as if it was something that was heavily used by a lot of people, but rather... restricted to certain households of individuals and produced in a sort of public context - not individualized," Dillehay said.

Edited from redOrbit (2 December 2010)

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