“Dozens of common plants are toxic. Archaeologists have long suspected that our Palaeolithic ancestors used plant poisons to make their hunting weapons more lethal. Now Dr Valentina Borgia has teamed up with a forensic chemist to develop a technique for detecting residues of deadly substances on archaeological objects.
We’re surrounded by poisonous plants: they thrive in our parks and gardens, hedgerows and woodlands. Foxgloves (Digitalis) look charming but their seeds can kill. The flowers of monkshood (Aconitum napellus) are a stunning blue but its roots can be deadly. Hemlock (Conium maculatum) is both common and extremely toxic as Shakespeare reminds us in Macbeth with the incantations of the witches.
Archaeologists have long believed that our ancestors used poisons extracted from such plants to make their weapons more lethal and kill their prey more swiftly. By dipping an arrow head into a poisonous paste, the hunter could ensure that an animal would receive a dose of toxic chemicals - alkaloids or cardenolides - that would either kill it immediately or slow it down.
Until very recently it has been impossible to prove that poisons extracted from plants were used by early societies. Now Dr Valentina Borgia, a specialist in Palaeolithic hunting weapons and Marie Curie Fellow at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, believes that she is on the brink of being able to prove that our ancestors used poisons as far back as 30,000 years ago” (read more).
(Source: University of Cambridge)