Coca Leaves Chewed Way Earlier Than Thought They date back 8,000 years in South America By Nick McMaster, Newser Staff Posted Dec 2, 2010 6:12 PM CST 10 comments Comments In this April 22, 2009, photo, a coca farmer displays coca leaves in Peru. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia) (Newser) – Peruvians chewed coca leaves more than 8,000 years ago, say researchers who've found the earliest evidence of usage of the plant, the BBC reports. Scientists knew that South Americans chewed the leaves but had previously dated the first use to 5,000 years ago. Coca, the plant from which cocaine is derived, has medicinal benefits in its natural form, and the new discovery shows the leaves were held in regard. "We found it not so much in a household context, as if it was something that was heavily used by a lot of people, but rather restricted to certain households of individuals and produced in a sort of public context—not individualized," says a Vanderbilt researcher. "The evidence we have suggests that unlike in Western societies—where if you've got the economic means you can have access to medicinal plants—that seems not to be the case back then."