Were Prehistoric Cave Painters High On Hallucinogenic Plants?

cave paintingsDo psychedelics produce the common shapes and patterns found in prehistoric cave art around the world? Alternet reports:

Prehistoric cave paintings across the continents have similar geometric patterns not because early humans were learning to draw like Paleolithic pre-schoolers, but because they were high on drugs, and their brains—like ours—have a biological predisposition to “see” certain patterns, especially during consciousness altering states.

This thesis—that humanity’s earliest artists were not just reeling due to mind-altering activities, but deliberately sought those elevated states and gave greater meaning to those common visions—is the contention of a new paper by an international research team.

Their thesis intriguingly explores the “biologically embodied mind,” which they contend gave rise to similarities in Paleolithic art across the continents dating back 40,000 years, and can also be seen in the body painting patterns dating back even further

“The prevalence of certain geometric patterns in the symbolic material culture of many prehistoric cultures, starting shortly after the emergence of our biological species and continuing in some indigenous cultures until today, is explained in terms of the characteristic contents of biologically determined hallucinatory experience,” the researchers hypothesize.

Why did they gravitate to these patterns? Because the imagery was seen or sensed while having a super-sensory experience and therefore seemed to be imbued with cosmic significance.“ The patterns are directly perceived as somehow meaningful and thereby offer themselves as salient motifs for use in rituals.”

7 Comments on "Were Prehistoric Cave Painters High On Hallucinogenic Plants?"

  1. Ted Heistman | Jul 11, 2013 at 1:51 pm |

    I think the drugs are like a door to these realities not the foundation of the reality itself. You can access these states by other means. I think this fact points to these worlds having more of an objectivity and universal quality to them than if they were merely hallucinations.

    • Maybe these prehistoric hunter/gatherers were in a headspace we can only get back to by way of hallucinogens or some serious meditative mind bending.

  2. A ‘new’ paper? Has no one read Graham Hancocks book Supernatural? He was talking about this 7 years ago!

    • Tchoutoye | Jul 11, 2013 at 9:14 pm |

      Hancock was a bit late lifting it from David Lewis-Williams and Thomas Dowson, who wrote about it 25 years ago. In fact, Lewis-Williams started researching this stuff in 1970s.

      • It is unfair to say Hancock ‘lifted’ this idea. He presented some fairly
        obscure research in popular form, with sufficient academic apparatus,
        citations etc. to avoid sensationalism – not easy, but something he does well.

    • Matt Staggs | Jul 12, 2013 at 10:36 am |


  3. Maybe the plants were high on prehistoric humans, and the pictographs painted them?

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