New research led by the University of Central Lancashire and the Department of Archeology at the University of Southampton has revealed, for the first time, how the prehistoric American people created rock art as part of the hallucinogenic experience.
As part of this investigation, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, academics excavated a site in a California cave after discovering a painting thought to represent the flowers of Datura wrightii, a plant used in the past for its hallucinogenic properties as part of a spiritual ceremony.
How hallucinogenic plants contributed to the evolution of art and civilizations
The most notable use of Datura in ancient California is as part of teenage initiations, where the plant’s root was turned into a beverage for young people in the community. Along with painting, researchers also discovered a series of chewed materials, which turned out to be almost all made of Datura.
This research strengthens the link between inhaling hallucinogens and creating rock art, showing that art represented the plant itself, rather than images in a trance. This highlights the deep appreciation of hallucinogenic plants for Californian natives.
The findings also suggest that the site was probably a communal space where people gathered seasonally for hunting, collecting and preparing food. This shows that art has played an important role in the daily lives of all members of the local community.
“The combination of chemistry and archeology in this project has really shown the power of a multidisciplinary approach to discovering new knowledge. It was an exciting project and visiting these sites with Dave was truly memorable, ”said Dr. Matthew Baker, a chemist at the University of Strathclyde and co-author of the paper.
Interesting discoveries about communities of prehistoric people
Dr. David Robinson, an archaeologist at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), said: “These discoveries give us a much deeper understanding of the lives of Native American communities and their relationships, from late prehistory to the late 1800s. thanks to this research, the Tejon Indian tribe is now visiting the site annually to reconnect to this important ancestral site.
“The connection between hallucinogens and rock art has long been suspected, and this research shows that it was not just a source of creative inspiration for these prehistoric groups of people, but a basic principle of important rituals and community gathering.”
Dr Fraser Sturt, a professor of archeology at the University of Southampton and co-author of the research, said: “The results of this project come from an interdisciplinary, open and collaborative approach to research. In this way, we discovered new and improved records of material remains. Thus, I learned interesting things about how these aspects influenced art and people’s existence. Thus, while the emphasis is on the hallucinogenic properties of the plant Datura wrightii and its role in rock art and in the evolution of the community, this work also shows the complex relationships between people in a certain place and environment ”.