Description: In 1976 traces of cocaine and tobacco, plants only to have existed in the Americas prior to Columbus, was found in some Egyptian mummies and has led some to speculate that Ancient Egyptians may have traveled to the New World.
Mainstream Theory: Mainstream scholars remain skeptical, and do not see this as proof of ancient contact between Africa and the Americas, especially as there may be possible Old World sources or the mummies have been contaminated during transport or examination.
Alternative Theory: The initial discovery was made by a German toxicologist, Svetlana Balabanova, after examining the mummy of a female priestess called Henut Taui. Follow-up tests of the hair shaft, performed to rule out contamination, gave the same results.
If Balabanova was surprised by the results of her tests she was even more surprised at the vitriolic response to her publication. She received a flood of letters threatening, insulting and accusing her of fraud. When she reminded her critics that she was simply applying the very same techniques that she had used for years in police work where her results were considered “proof positive” her critics didn’t seem to care. She was condemned as a “fraud.”
Dr. Rosalie David, Keeper of Egyptology, Manchester Museum took up the challenge of investigating the “cocaine mummies” which she thought “seemed quite impossible.” She began by sending tissue and hair samples from her museum out to labs. She was working on the dual assumption that one of two things are true: 1. Balabanova’s tests were compromised; or 2. The mummy was not truly ancient” (i.e. it was fake). Dr. David flew to Munich to review the techniques and excavation records to see if the body, which had originally been purchased by King Ludwig I of Bavaria was genuine or not.
Dr. Alfred Grimm, the Curator of The Egyptian Museum in Munich said that “the Munich mummies are real Egyptian mummies. No fakes. No modern mummies. They came from ancient Egypt.” After spending days pouring over the docum-entation associated with the “cocaine mummy” Dr. David relented saying: “it seems evident that they are probably genuine…”
When she returned to Manchester she discovered that her own Museum’s mummies had traces of tobacco. Dr. David said: “I’m really very surprised at this.”
Dr. Balabanova’s work had been validated by the test results from Manchester but she was now hooked on the problem and began collecting samples of naturally preserved bodies housed in museums all around Europe. She obtained 134 separate bodies taken from ancient Sudan dating to a time long before Columbus or the Vikings. One third of these bodies contained both nicotine and cocaine.
The exciting realisation that there was certainly contact between ancient Peru and ancient Egypt has now been established. The cocaine mummies from Egypt and Sudan have changed the rules of this controversial game. There is no longer a warrant to exclude the hypothesis of transoceanic trade in ancient times.
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