Californians gathered in a cave 500 years ago to get high under painting of a hallucinogenic plant

Native Californians gathered in a cave — underneath a painting of a hallucinogenic plant — to get high some five centuries ago, a study has concluded.

Researchers from the UK and the US found that a spiral artform daubed on a wall of a cave south of Bakersfield resembled the intoxicating flower known as ‘sacred datura’.

Furthermore, they found remains of the flower’s fibres that had been chewed up and embedded into the ceiling of the cave.

The finding challenges a long-debated theory — the ‘altered states of consciousness’ model — that the makers of rock art may have in a trance state while painting.

Instead of being an attempt to capture in painting the visual phenomena observed while under the plant’s influence, the art represented the flower itself, the team said.

This image of the plant may thus have served to convey knowledge about the plant in preparation for communal hallucinogenic experiences. 

Native Californians gathered in a cave — underneath a painting of a hallucinogenic plant, pictured — to get high some five centuries ago, a study has concluded

Native Californians gathered in a cave — underneath a painting of a hallucinogenic plant, pictured — to get high some five centuries ago, a study has concluded

‘Proponents of the altered states of consciousness model have argued that hallucinogens have influenced the prehistoric making of images in caves and rock shelters,’ explained the researchers in their paper.

‘However, there remains no clear evidence for the preparation and consumption of hallucinogenic substances directly associated with any rock art site in the world.’

In their study, archaeologist David Robinson of the University of Central Lancashire and colleagues analysed fibrous clumps called quids which were found embedded in the ceiling of California’s Pinwheel Cave.

The site takes it name from a red, pinwheel-like design painted on the cave wall — which the team believe may represent Datura wrightii, a flower species known to have hallucinogenic properties that Native Californians used to induce trance states.

The team used a variety of techniques to analyse the quids and determine their chemical compositions and likely origin.

Liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry confirmed that the quids contained the hallucinogenic alkaloids atropine and scopolamine while scanning electron microscopy revealed that most of the fibres came from Datura wrightii.

Further analysis suggested that the quids had been chewed — and were thus likely consumed in the cave under where the paintings lie.

The researchers also found evidence of other communal activities in the cave — specifically, projectile points and arrow shaft straighteners that are indicative of the manufacture and retooling of weapons in preparation for hunts.

Researchers from the UK and the US found that a spiral artform (pictured) daubed on a wall of a cave south of Bakersfield resembled the intoxicating flower known as 'sacred datura'

Researchers from the UK and the US found that a spiral artform daubed on a wall of a cave south of Bakersfield resembled the intoxicating flower known as 'sacred datura' (pictured)

Researchers from the UK and the US found that a spiral artform (left) daubed on a wall of a cave south of Bakersfield resembled the intoxicating flower known as ‘sacred datura’ (right)

In their study, archaeologist David Robinson of the University of Central Lancashire and colleagues analysed fibrous clumps called quids which were found embedded in the ceiling of California's Pinwheel Cave, as pictured

In their study, archaeologist David Robinson of the University of Central Lancashire and colleagues analysed fibrous clumps called quids which were found embedded in the ceiling of California’s Pinwheel Cave, as pictured

Liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry confirmed that the quids contained the hallucinogenic alkaloids atropine and scopolamine while scanning electron microscopy imaging (pictured) revealed that most of the fibres came from Datura wrightii

Liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry confirmed that the quids contained the hallucinogenic alkaloids atropine and scopolamine while scanning electron microscopy imaging (pictured) revealed that most of the fibres came from Datura wrightii

We present the first clear evidence for the ingestion of hallucinogens at a rock art site, in this case, from Pinwheel Cave, California,’ the researchers concluded.

‘Quids in the cave ceiling are shown to be Datura wrightii, a Native Californian entheogen,’ they added.

This, they said, indicates that ‘rather than illustrating visual phenomena caused by the Datura, the rock paintings instead likely represent the plant and its pollinator.’

The full findings of the study were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers also found evidence of other communal activities in the cave — specifically, projectile points (left) and arrow shaft straighteners (right) that are indicative of the manufacture and retooling of weapons in preparation for hunts

The researchers also found evidence of other communal activities in the cave — specifically, projectile points (left) and arrow shaft straighteners (right) that are indicative of the manufacture and retooling of weapons in preparation for hunts

Pictured, Pinwheel cave. The site takes it name from a red, pinwheel-like design painted on the cave wall — which the team believe may represent Datura wrightii, a flower species known to have hallucinogenic properties that Native Californians used to induce trance states

Pictured, Pinwheel cave. The site takes it name from a red, pinwheel-like design painted on the cave wall — which the team believe may represent Datura wrightii, a flower species known to have hallucinogenic properties that Native Californians used to induce trance states

In their study, archaeologist David Robinson of the University of Central Lancashire and colleagues analysed fibrous clumps called quids which were found embedded in the ceiling of California's Pinwheel Cave

In their study, archaeologist David Robinson of the University of Central Lancashire and colleagues analysed fibrous clumps called quids which were found embedded in the ceiling of California’s Pinwheel Cave

CAVE ART: WORKS DATING BACK AS FAR AS 40,000 YEARS HAVE BEEN DISCOVERED

The most famous cave art can be found in Spain and France, but it exists throughout the world.

The famed Upper Palaeolithic cave art of Europe dates back to around 21,000 years ago. 

In recent years scholars have recorded cave art found in Indonesia that is believed to be about 40,000 years old – predating the most popular European cave art.

 

The new report’s author, Shigeru Miyagawa, explained in the analysis the pervasiveness of cave drawings.

He said: ‘Cave art is everywhere. Every major continent inhabited by homo sapiens has cave art.

‘You find it in Europe, in the Middle East, in Asia, everywhere – just like the human language.’

source: dailymail.co.uk

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