Prehistoric Drug Paraphernalia Found on Caribbean Island


People who colonized the Caribbean from South America about 1,500 years ago brought with them heirloom drug paraphernalia that had been passed down from generation to generation, anthropologists propose.

Ceramic inhaling bowls found on the island of Carriacou, in the West Indies, date back to between roughly 400 and 100 B.C, according to a study headed by Scott Fitzpatrick, an assistant professor of anthropology at North Carolina State University. These dates are well before the paraphernalia was carried to Carriacou by migrants from South America in about A.D. 400.

Ceramic snuffing tubes and inhaling bowls used for ingesting hallucinogenic substances are known from several islands in the West Indies, but their chronological distribution is often vague, the researchers said.


Photo courtesy North Carolina State University

Using a process called luminescence to date the bowls, as well as analysis of the material from which the bowls were made, the researchers determined that the artifacts “appear to have been transported to Carriacou when it was colonized — possibly hundreds of years after they were made,” Fitzpatrick said.

Scholars have long thought that the people who settled the Caribbean islands likely brought heirlooms with them, Fitzpatrick said. “The bowls are the first physical evidence we’ve found to support that claim.”


The study, “Evidence for inter-island transport of heirlooms: luminescence dating and petrographic analysis of ceramic inhaling bowls from Carriacou, West Indies,” will be published in a forthcoming issue of Journal of Archaeological Science.

A partial inhaling bowl found at the site of Grand Bay on Carriacou in deposits dating between about A.D. 1000-1200, along with two specimens from the local museum, were dated using luminescence to determine their antiquity.


Grand Bay on Carriacou, where the partial inhaling bowl was found.

Photo courtesy North Carolina State University

Additional analysis suggested that the artifacts were not made using local materials. Instead, they appear to have been transported to the island, possibly hundreds of years after being made somewhere else.

This may be the first evidence for inter-island transport of drug paraphernalia in the Caribbean, the researchers noted.drug-paraphernalia-2.jpg

Illustrations of ceramic inhaling bowls found elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Illustrations for this entry courtesy North Carolina State University

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