Elisa Guerra-Doce, the lead author of the study, said researchers were stunned by the results, especially because the cave interiors yielded no detectable signs of the drugs’ presence. A chemical analysis of the hair revealed evidence of three alkaloid substances known to produce altered states of consciousness: ephedrine, atropine and scopolamine.
The compounds themselves are produced by flora native to Minorca. Atropine and scopolamine, powerful hallucinogens, can be found in plants in the nightshade family, among them mandrake, henbane and thorn apple. Ephedrine, a stimulant, can be extracted from joint pine.
“These findings are so singular,” said Ms. Guerra-Doce, an expert in the anthropology of intoxication at the University of Valladolid in Spain. “Sometimes when people think about drugs, they think it’s a modern practice. These results tell a different story.”
Ms. Guerra-Doce said the way the compounds were distributed through each hair strand suggests the drugs were consumed over the period of a year, and well before death.