Prof. Jon Russ Among Researchers Making New Discovery About Early Tobacco Smoking in North America

student and professor
Ryan Hunt ’17 and Dr. Jon Russ (right)

Dr. Jon Russ,  the Daughdrill Chair of Natural Sciences and professor of chemistry at Rhodes, along with Dr. Stephen Carmody of Troy University and Dr. Jera Davis of New South Associates Inc., for years have been analyzing residues from smoking pipes excavated from archaeological sites in Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia, and Alabama.
 
Now they have a paper published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports describing their discovery of the earliest evidence of tobacco in North America. Most Native American communities revered tobacco as sacred, assigning it a central role in many religious ceremonies.

“During our studies of prehistoric smoking pipes, we identified nicotine in one dating at about 3,500 years old,” says Russ.  “This predates the first evidence of tobacco in North America by more than 1,000 years.”
 
The researchers received support from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Historic Preservation Office and Rhodes College, and they used a chemical analysis technique called mass gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to look for traces of residues from plant materials left behind in smoking pipes.
 
Ryan Hunt ’17,  who is currently in graduate school (chemistry) at the University of Minnesota, also was involved in the research while a student at Rhodes.