The detection of nicotine in a Late Mayan period flask by gas chromatography and liquid chromatography mass spectrometry methods


D. V. Zagorevski, Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1145 CBIS, 110 8th St., Troy, NY 12180, USA.



Several ancient Mayan vessels from the Kislak Collection of the US Library of Congress were examined for the presence of alkaloids. One of them, a codex-style flask, bears a text that appears to read yo-'OTOT-ti 'u-MAY, spelling y-otoot 'u-may 'the home of its/his/her tobacco'. Samples extracted from this Late Classic period (600 to 900 AD) container were analyzed by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) and liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry (LC/MS) methods. Nicotine was identified as the major component of the extracts. LC/MS analyses also yielded signals due to nicotine mono-oxides. The identities of the compounds were determined by comparison of the chromatographic and/or mass spectral characteristics with those from standards and literature data. High-resolution high mass accuracy tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS) spectra of protonated nicotine and nicotine mono-oxides were measured to verify and to correct previous product ion assignments. These analyses provided positive evidence for nicotine from a Mayan vessel, indicating it as a likely holder of tobacco leafs. The result of this investigation is the first physical evidence of tobacco from a Mayan container, and only the second example where the vessel content recorded in a Mayan hieroglyphic text has been confirmed directly by chromatography/mass spectrometry trace analysis. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.