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~  The Mystery Of The Cocaine Mummies ~

Partial Transcript Below: 

In the 21st dynasty of the Pharaos, 3,000 years ago, there took place one night at a temple, the funeral of Henut Taui - the Lady of the Two lands.

Compared to the great rulers of Egypt, her burial was a modest affair. But just like the Pharaos, she too was mummified, and her body placed in the depths of a desert tomb, in the belief it would give her immortality.

German scientist, Dr Svetla Balabanova, made a discovery which was to baffle Egyptologists, and call into question whole areas of science and archeology to chemistry and botany.

She discovered that the body of Henut Taui contained large quantities of cocaine and nicotine. The surprise was not just that the ancient Egyptians had taken drugs, but that these drugs come from tobacco and coca, plants completly unknown outside the Americas, unheard of until Sir Walter Raleigh introduced smoking from the New World, or until cocaine was imported in the Victorian era.

It was seemingly impossible for the ancient Egyptians to get hold of these substances.

For thousands of years people in the Andes have been chewing coca leaves, to get out the cocaine with it’s stimulant, anaesthetic and euphoric properties. There are actually species of the coca family which grow in Africa, but only the South American species has ever been shown to contain the drug.

DR SVETLA BALABANOVA - Institute of Forensic Medicine, Ulm: 
"The cocaine of course remains an open question. It’s a mystery - it’s completely unclear how cocaine could get into Africa. On the other hand, we know there were trade relationships long before Columbus, and it’s conceivable that the coca plant had been imported into Egypt even then."

NARRATOR:
Was it possible that coca - a plant from South America had been finding it’s way to Egypt 3,000 years ago?

If the cocaine found in mummies could not be explained by contamination, or fake mummies or by Egyptian plants containing it, there appeared to be only one remaining possibility… An international drug trade who’s links extended all the way to the Americas.

NARRATOR: 
But on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, where the moving current of the Gulf Stream arrives in Mexico directly from the west coast of Africa, there is a professionally-employed anthropologist who does seriously beleive in such possibilities.

PROF ALICE KEHOE - Anthropologist, Marquette University: 
"I think there is good evidence that there was both trans-atlantic and trans-pacific travel before Columbus." 

But the idea that the ability of the ancients to cross the oceans might have been underestimated continues to be quietly whispered about. Over the years evidence has grown which suggests it might be time to look again at such voyages. To imagine that the Egyptians, who apparently only sailed up and down the Nile or into the Red Sea, might get as far as the Americas perhaps sounds fantastical. But in science, what is one day thought absurd, can next day become accepted as fact.

[Picture of a Norse settlement in Newfoundland]

One senior academic thinks it’s important to remember that before the discovery of this Norse settlement in Newfoundland in 1965 theories about Viking voyages to America were dismissed as nonsense.

PROF MARTIN BERNAL - Historian, Cornell University: 
"What we’ve seen is a shift from the idea of Viking landings in America being seen as completely fantastic or partisan, to being accepted by every scholar in the field."

NARRATOR: 
The fact that evidence of the Viking crossings was hidden has encouraged Martin Bernal to contemplate even earlier voyages that are likewise dismissed as impossible.

PROF MARTIN BERNAL - Historian, Cornell University: 
"I have no reason to doubt that there were others - but what they were, and how much influence they had on American society is open to question. But that trans-oceanic voyages are possible - or were possible - seems to me to be overwhelmingly likely."

NARRATOR: 
Yet discovery of minute strands of silk found in the hair of a mummy from Luxor could suggest the trade stretching from Egypt to the Pacific. For silk at this time was only known to come from China.

PROF MARTIN BERNAL - Historian, Cornell University: 
"We’re getting more and more evidence of world trade at an earlier stage. You have the Chinese silk definitely arriving in Egypt by 1000BC. I think modern scholars have a tendency to believe rigidly in progress and the idea that you could only have a worldwide trading network from the 18th century onwards, is our temporal arrogance - that it’s only modern people that can do these things."

NARRATOR: 
The evidence for ancient trade with America is limited, and most of it is disputed, but it can’t be completely ruled out as explaining the apparent impossibility of Balabanova’s results, results that at first seemed so absurd many thought they would be explained away by a simple story of a botch-up in a lab, results that still without firm explanation continue to crop up in unexpected places.

For in Manchester, the mummies under the care of Rosalie David, the Egyptologist once so sure that Balabanova had made a mistake, produced some odd results of their own.

ROSALIE DAVID - Keeper of Egyptology, Manchester Museum: 
"We’ve received results back from the tests on our mummy tissue samples and two of the samples and the one hair sample both have evidence of nicotine in them. I’m really very surprised at this."

DR SVETLA BALABANOVA - Institute of Forensic Medicine, Ulm: 
"The results of the tests on the Manchester mummies have made me very happy after all these years of being accuesed of false results and contaminated results, so I was delighted to hear nicotine had been found in these mummies, and very, very happy to have this enormous confirmation of my work."

NARRATOR: 
The tale of Henut Taui shows that in science facts can be rejected if they don’t fit with our beleifs while what is believed proven, may actually be uncertain.

Little wonder then, that a story that began with one scientist, a few mummies and some routine tests, in no time at all could upset whole areas of knowledge we thought we could take for granted.

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