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The Smoking of Bones: An Ethnographic Examination of the Maya’s Use of Tobacco and Tobacco Substitutes

Author(s): Kerry Hull

Year: 2016

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Epigraphic studies have confirmed what Classic period iconography has long shown—the Ancient Maya cultivated and smoked tobacco. Ethnographic studies among various Maya groups have brought to light a wide range of uses for tobacco, from pleasure, to healing, to witchcraft. In this paper I will address several lesser discussed topics related to tobacco. First, I will discuss ethnographic data relating to the use of other plants that are mixed with tobacco to alter its effects or tastes. Second, I investigate tobacco substitute plants that were or are smoked by different Maya groups in place of tobacco and trace the ritual or practical motivations for each. In addition, drawing upon my own fieldwork with the Ch’orti’ Maya, I detail the ritual smoking of a peculiar non-plant substance: human bones. I described this rare ritual and contextualize the practice by offering evidence for a Classic period antecedent to this rite. Thus I argue that while the importance of Nicotiana tabacum is clear among the ancient Maya, substitute materials may also have been used on specific occasions.

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The Smoking of Bones: An Ethnographic Examination of the Maya’s Use of Tobacco and Tobacco Substitutes. Kerry Hull. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 405091)


Ethnography Maya Tobacco

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Spatial Coverage

min long: -107.271; min lat: 12.383 ; max long: -86.353; max lat: 23.08 ;

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America