Professor Jon Russ – Archaeometry Research

two male and four female students stand arm-in-arm
The current research group includes (left to right) Umer Aziz '20, Claire Rebbe '20, Aubrey McKittrick-Troop '22, Grace Tolan '20, Morgan McDonald '20, and Hunter Parrish '21.
a smoking tube from a pipe

Residue analysis of prehistoric smoking pipes: One of our current research projects is the chemical analysis of archaeological smoking pipes from North America. At the time of first contact with Europeans in 1492, tobacco was ubiquitous throughout the New World. Although the original ancestral source of tobacco is known to be the Andean Highlands, how and when tobacco became widespread remains uncertain. The techniques we use allow us to establish whether an artifact contained tobacco via the detection of nicotine in the residue. The artifact shown at right (FS 74) is a smoking tube recovered from the Flint River Archaeological site in Western Georgia that was radiocarbon dated at 3500 years old. We identified nicotine in this artifact, making it the earliest evidence of tobacco in North America.

 small figural pipe


Included in our studies are ones that were used during religious ceremonies such as the Mother Earth Effigy Pipe shown here. Various plants were smoked in these pipes, and part of our challenge is to determine which plants were part of the smoking complex. To that end, we are analyzing plants and the byproducts of simulated smoking to characterize the compounds that result in the combustion of the plant material. This allows us to relate these characteristic compounds to the organic analysis of the pipe residues.

one male and three female students stand in front of a poster presentation
The research group at the 2019 American Chemical Society Meeting in Orlando, Florida. Pictured (left to right) are Umer Aziz, Lulu Schulz, Grace Tolan, and Claire Rebbe.