Ancient rock art shows prehistoric people ‘used hallucinogenic drugs’

Rob Waugh
·Contributor
·2 min read
The painting shows a datura flower (University of Central Lancashire)
The painting shows a datura flower (PNaS)

A swirl-like painting on the wall of a Californian cave has shown that prehistoric people were using hallucinogenic plants to create art.

New research found that the painting actually shows the flower of Datura wrightii, a plant used for its hallucinogenic properties in ceremonies.

Scientists from the University of Central Lancashire excavated the cave, and found that, as well as a painting of the plant, there were chewed materials from the hallucinogenic plant.

Datura is a powerful hallucinogen which has been associated with witchcraft or religious practices in many societies around the world.

The research was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNaS).

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Dr David Robinson, Reader in archaeology at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), said, 'The link between hallucinogens and rock art has long been suspected, and this research shows that it was not only a source of creative inspiration for these prehistoric groups of people, but a core tenet of important rituals and community gathering.”

Datura was used in Native California as part of adolescent initiation rituals, where the root of the plant was processed into a drink for young people in the community.

Scientists in the cave in California (PNaS)
Scientists in the cave in California (PNaS)

Other material found at the site also suggests that the site was likely to be a communal space in which people would gather on a seasonal basis for hunting, gathering, food preparation, and eating

The researchers believe that the art played a prominent role in the daily lives of all members of the local community.

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Dr Robinson says, 'These findings give us a far more in-depth understanding of the lives of indigenous American communities and their relationships, from late prehistoric times right up until the late 1800s.

‘Importantly, because of this research, the Tejon Indian tribe now visits the site annually to reconnect to this important ancestral place.

Dr Matthew Baker, Reader in Chemistry at the University of Strathclyde and co-author, said: 'The combination of chemistry and archaeology in this project has truly shown the power of a multidisciplinary approach to uncover new knowledge. This was a gripping project and visiting these sites with Dave was truly memorable.”

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