Monday, April 23, 2012

Y-otoot 'U-may

There is substantial historical evidence that the Maya used tobacco.

For example Mayan hieroglphics which refer to tobacco have been translated.

Moreover, carvings of deities, kings, and shamans are often depicted smoking in Mayan art and iconography. Perhaps the most famous of these is the The God L, which may be the same as Bolon Yookte' K'uh, and a prince of Xibalbá, as well as a wealthy god of commerce and trade,is frequently seen smoking a cigar. For example, the God L is depicted smoking a cigar on a wall relief in the Mayan city of Palenque, Mexico. Similarly, the Madrid Codex contains multiple images of people smoking, including one of the God L.

Madrid Codex Showing God L Smoking a Cigar

Wall Relief from Palenque showing God L Smoking a Cigar

Recently, Dmitri Zagorevski, a scientist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Jennifer Loughmiller-Newman, an anthropologist from the University at Albany, discovered physical evidence that the Mayans stored tobacco in vessels. These scientists tested the residue inside a number of Mayan vessels from the Kislak Collectionat the Library of Congress. They used gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GCMS) and liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LCMS). These highly precise but non-invasive methods can detect the presence of the specific substances even from minute samples. The report can be obtained here.

One of the vessels tested, a small 2.5-inch-by-2.5-inch clay flask made around 700 A.D. in Southern Campeche, Mexico, unquestionably showed nicotine, which is quite certain proof that the Mayans were cultivated and stored tobacco. This would suggest that the God L was indeed smoking cigars.
Zagorevski and Loughmiller-Newman’s analysis of the vessel found nicotine, an important component of tobacco in residues scraped from the container. Both techniques confirmed the presence of nicotine. In addition, three oxidation products of nicotine were also discovered. Nicotine oxidation occurs naturally as the nicotine in tobacco is exposed to air and bacteria. None of the nicotine byproducts associated with the smoking of tobacco were found in the vessel, indicating that the vessel housed unsmoked tobacco leaves (possibly powered [sic] tobacco) and was not used as an ash tray. No other evidence of nicotine has been found, at this time, in any of the other vessels in the collection.

Tobacco Vessel: Y-otoot 'U-may

The vesel is decorated with a hieroglyphic text that reads “y-otoot ‘u-may,” meaning “the home of [his/her/its] tobacco.” Given the presence of nicotine and the hieroglyphic text, it looks like what we may have here is an ancient form of humidor!

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