Native Intoxicants of North America

  • Author(s): Rafferty, Sean
  • Series:
  • Imprint: University of Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2021-07-18
  • Status: Active
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Though scholarship on intoxicants in regions like Asia, Africa, Mesoamerica, and South America is plentiful, Native Intoxicants of North America represents the first foray into a study of prehistoric intoxicants throughout North America specifically. In this study, Sean Rafferty fills significant gaps in existing research with a focus on native cultures of North America and holistic coverage of intoxicants by type. Importantly, Rafferty anchors his investigation in an easily overlooked question: why did early humans use intoxicants in the first place?

Rafferty begins by discussing the origins of intoxicants and their role in rituals, medicine, and recreation. Subsequent chapters turn to specific intoxicants—hallucinogens, stimulants, alcohol, and tobacco—making ample use of illustrations across disciplines, weaving a tapestry of culture, ritual, medicine, botany, artifact, and history. All the while, Rafferty explores the societal significance of narcotics, stimulants, and hallucinogens on prehistoric North American cultures.

While Native Intoxicants of North America focuses specifically on Native cultures, the author’s analysis provides the foundation for a valuable broader discussion: that in a world where few human behaviors are universal, experiencing altered states of consciousness is one that transcends culture and time.

SEAN RAFFERTY is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Albany. He is coeditor, with Rob Mann, of Smoking and Culture: The Archaeology of Tobacco Pipes in Eastern North America, and his articles have appeared in the Journal of Archaeological Science, Archaeology of Eastern North America, and the Journal of Ethnohistory.