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Coca plants, which are the source for cocaine, are indigenous to Central and South America. The name of the plant is derived from the Inca word Kuka. Archaeological evidence points to the use of coca plants in South America as early as seven thousand years ago. They were used for many centuries by the Incas as part of their religious ceremonies. To help the dead in the afterworld, mounds of stored coca leaves were left at burial sites in the area of modern Peru. These sites are estimated to be about 4,500 years old. The Incas may also have been using liquid coca leaf compounds to perform brain surgery 3,500 years ago. Inca records dating from the thirteenth through the sixteenth century indicate that coca was revered as a sacred object with magical powers. The magic plant of the Incas was chewed by priests to help induce trances that led them into the spirit world to determine the wishes of their gods. Artifacts dating back thousands of years to the earliest Incan periods show the cheeks of their high priests distended with what in all probability were the leaves of the coca plant.

Even before the Spanish conquest, Indians working in silver mines of the northern Andes chewed the coca leaf to help overcome pain, fatigue, and the respiratory problems common at high altitudes. Early European explorers in the fifteenth century compared the common sight of Indians they saw chewing the coca leaves to cattle chewing cud. After the Spanish conquest the Church sought to ban the practice of chewing the coca leaf, mainly because of its association with Incan religious ceremonies. When the ban failed, the Spanish allowed the Incan survivors to continue their ancient practice of coca leaf chewing in order to maintain mining production. South American farmers, who are descendants of the Incas, continue the practice to the present day.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Cluster compound to ConcupiscenceCocaine - History, Introduction To The West, Coca-cola, Early Drug Laws, After The 1960s