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Modern humans are not the only ones to make art while high
When it comes to an art gallery, a cave is a strange choice of venue. Many ancient cave paintings, which mark the first known examples of artwork by hominids, are so deep under the ground that it would have taken extraordinary effort to view them.
So, if you’re an ancient artist, what might inspire you to paint scenes of life — things like horses, kangaroos, and a warty pig in the case of the oldest-known cave painting — that few, if any, people would ever see?
As it turns out, Israeli archaeologists may have figured out the answer. Long story short, the artists were tripping — literally.
According to a new paper in “Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture” by Tel Aviv University archaeologists, the humans who ventured into these subterranean enclosures during the Upper Paleolithic (50,000 to 12,000 years ago) would have needed to light torches in order to see what they were doing.
In the process, they would have reduced the amount of oxygen in the caves, inducing hypoxia (oxygen-deprivation) in their brains. That, in turn, would have put them in a state of altered consciousness, experiencing euphoria, out-of-body experiences and perhaps even hallucinations.
Our ancestors would not have understood the science behind all of this, though. That is why the Israeli researchers speculate that they probably would have understood their experience as metaphysical in nature.
Indeed, there are many people today who believe they have had spiritual experiences when they take mind-altering substances or enter a “trippy” environment, even with the scientific knowledge we currently possess about why our brains react in certain ways.
The people responsible for these drawings, the researchers speculate, might have believed that there was something special about the caves themselves.