The Atlantic

What DNA Hidden in a Plantation Tobacco Pipe Reveals

Archaeologists have started searching for genetic data inside ordinary objects such as pipes, which can contain centuries-old saliva.
Source: MDOT SHA

The great thing about tobacco pipes, according to Julie Schablitsky, is that they are hard to not find. They were ubiquitous in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries—to the point, she says, that “wherever you have people during this historic period, you’ll find these clay tobacco pipes in the ground.” And wherever these people left broken tobacco pipes, they were also unwittingly leaving their DNA.

Traditionally, the archaeological study of DNA has focused on human remains such as bone and teeth. But geneticists are now able to extract DNA, including tobacco pipes, which can contain centuries-old saliva. Schablitsky, an archaeologist with the Maryland State Highway Administration, and her collaborators recently analyzed the —uncovered in the slave quarters of a .

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic6 min readPolitics
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Self-Limiting Revolution
Knock Down the House set out to show an inspiring political movement—but instead revealed its boundaries.
The Atlantic5 min readPolitics
To China, All's Fair in Love and Trade Wars
The Atlantic5 min read
Busy Tonight Ended Just as Its Host Was Finding Her Voice