Poison, plants and Palaeolithic hunters. An analytical method to investigate the presence of plant poison on archaeological artefacts

Borgia, Valentina, Carlin, Michelle and Crezzini, Jacopo (2017) Poison, plants and Palaeolithic hunters. An analytical method to investigate the presence of plant poison on archaeological artefacts. Quaternary International, 427 (Part B). pp. 94-103. ISSN 1040-6182

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2015.12.025


In this paper we present the development of a method for the detection of toxic substances on ancient arrow points. The aim is to go back in time until the Palaeolithic period in order to determine if poisonous substances were used to enhance the hunting weapons.

The ethnographic documentation demonstrates that hunters of every latitude poisoned their weapons with toxic substances derived from plants and occasionally from animals. This highlights that often the weapons would be rather ineffective if the tips were not poisoned. The fact that toxic substances were available and the benefits arising from their application on throwing weapons, suggests that this practice could be widespread also among prehistoric hunters.

The project reviewed the research of the toxic molecules starting from current information on modern plants and working backwards through the ages with the study of ethnographic and historical weapons. This knowledge was then applied to the archaeological material collected from International museum collections.

Results have shown that using this method it is possible to detect traces of toxic molecules with mass spectrometry (MS) and hyphenated chromatographic techniques even on samples older than one hundred years, which we consider a positive incentive to continue studying plant poisons on ancient hunting tools.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: AM requested 10-2-16 PB.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Plant poisons; Hunters–gatherers; Palaeolithic; Hunting techniques; Chemical analysis
Subjects: F100 Chemistry
V400 Archaeology
Department: Faculties > Health and Life Sciences > Applied Sciences
Depositing User: Paul Burns
Date Deposited: 10 Feb 2016 12:06
Last Modified: 17 Apr 2019 15:30
URI: http://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/25946

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