Humans Using Tobacco 12,000 Years Ago, Seed Remains Show

The discovery of burnt seeds in an ancient hearth suggests people were using tobacco as much as 9000 years earlier than previously thought.

What to know:

  • Tobacco spread worldwide from North America in the 15th century, but it is widely debated when it was first cultivated by humans.

  • The remains of burnt tobacco plant seeds were discovered in an ancient hearth by researchers at the Far Western Anthropological Research Group in Davis, California.

  • The woody material in the hearth was determined by radiocarbon dating to be about 12,300 years old, though the seeds were too fragile to be dated themselves, which puts the earliest evidence of tobacco use 9000 years earlier than previously known.

  • While it can’t be said for certain how tobacco was used at the time, researchers think it’s likely people smoked or chewed tobacco similarly to how they do today. There were no remains found of the intoxicating parts of the plant — the leaves and stems — which suggests they were consumed.

  • The study results, published in Nature Human Behaviour, also detail other burnt seed remains found of plants traditionally eaten by Native American communities, such as goosefoot, red maids, and hairgrass.

This is a summary of the article “Burnt seeds show people used tobacco 12,000 years ago” published by Nature on October 13. The full article can be found on

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