The Biomolecular Archaeology of the Black Drink: Alkaloid Residue Analysis of Ilex vomitoria on Experimental Vessels and Applications for Prehistoric Specimens
McNutt, Charles H.
MetadataShow full item record
Early historic accounts document widespread use of a purgative known as “the black drink”, a caffeinated ceremonial tea famous for its use in purification rituals by elite males. The beverage was prepared from roasted leaves and twigs of yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), an evergreen shrub native to the southeastern coastal plain. Prehistoric use is poorly understood but often associated with shell cups found in mortuary contexts and the SECC. Our work, designed to track ancient use of psychoactive plants via Gas Chromatography‐Mass Spectrometry, includes identification of medicinal tea biomarkers, experimentation with brewing black drink, and residue extraction from pottery/shell specimens. Sampling included preparing and extracting a range of experimental vessels which served different functions in black drink cooking and consumption (cooking vessels, clay and shell cups), with extractions taken directly from the vessels and from tea residue on vessel interiors. Our findings suggest that chemical changes occur through the cooking process, but the presence of the biomarker caffeine remains stable and correlated the experimental vessels to the Ilex vomitoria plant in all but one case. We also describe the non-destructive method we developed where alkaloid residues can be extracted directly from the matrix of prehistoric shell cups and pottery vessels through a sonication process.