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Hair and History: Hallucinogenic Drugs Found in ~3000-Year-Old Hair Samples

A recent scientific report (Nature, April 6th, ) shows, for the first time, evidence of the use of psychoactive drugs by Bronze Age humans, through the analysis of ~3000 year-old hair samples. TRI doesn’t practice forensic science, but, as hair scientists, it is fascinating to learn how hair fibre samples can be used to explore how people lived in the past.

Image of Bronze-age hair sample and fragments of bone from

Guerra-Doce, et al., used Ultra-High-Performance Liquid Chromatography-High Resolution Mass Spectrometry (UHPLC-HRMS) to analyse the hair samples and detected alkaloids such as ephedrine, atropine and scopolamine at 330, 8.9 and 437 picograms per milligram of hair. All these drugs would have been ingested through plants, possibly for medical purposes or for use in ritualistic ceremonies.

This fascinating study just goes to show that ‘you are what you eat’ and that your hair keeps a history of what you have been ingesting over time. Furthermore, as hair is slow to degrade, it can keep these stories locked-away for thousands of years!

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