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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

“were Paleolithic cave painters high on psychedelic drugs?”

I’m fascinated by cave paintings and the earliest works of art humans have created, so this intrigues me hugely. From AlterNet:

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, according to recent archelogical discoveries.

At its core, this theory challenges the long-held notion that the earliest art and atrists were merely trying to draw the external world. Instead, it sees cave art as a deliberate mix of rituals inducing altered states for participants, coupled with brain chemistry that elicits certain visual patterns for humanity’s early chroniclers.

Obviously this doesn’t apply to the more representational art, such as that depicting animals, but it’s an interesting explanation for traditional motifs that recur across farflung cultures.

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easter eggs
  • LaSargenta

    Uses of mind-altering substances for rituals is pretty accepted by many (how’s that for a vague phrase?) regarding research into ancient people.

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