By Martin Wainwright
Saturday May 15, 1999
A whole new meaning has been given to the term Stone Age by archaeologists who have discovered an unexpected inspiration for prehistoric cave art.
Hemp seeds and spores of 'magic mushrooms' found in excavations suggest that the hazy and often upside-down bison and stickmen of primitive artists may have been painted in the course of drugs trips.
'It is too early to talk about proof, but there
are striking similarities with modern hallucinogenic
art,' said David Cowland, who delivers a lecture at Bradford university
next week on cannabis finds at prehistoric sites. 'Cave paintings have
a formlessness and unexpected mixing, for instance of mammoths and vivid
red dots, and the artists clearly had no shortage of
appropriate fungi and plants.'
Research centres on wall-paintings in caves in France and Spain dating back to16,000BC where ritual, often associated with drug use, is thought to have played an important part. Mr Cowland, a postgraduate at Bradford's archaeology department, said: 'We know that shamans, credited with magic powers, were important in primitive societies, and the use of magic mushrooms tallies with that.'
Moulds, including the powerfully hallucinogenic ergot found on rotting vegetation, were common in caves, and deliberate use also appears to have been made of the toadstool, amanita muscaria, or fly agaric.
The Greek historian, Herodotus, recorded travellers' descriptions of cannabis rituals dating back to much earlier times among Scythian tribespeople on the border between Siberia and Mongolia.
'They take some hemp seed, creep into a small tent and throw the seed on to hot stones. At once it begins to smoke, giving off a vapour unsurpassed by any vapour bath one could find in Greece. The Scythians enjoy it so much that they howl with pleasure.'
Mr Cowland said that recent finds at Pazyryk in the Altai mountains confirmed the account. Digs had located burnt hemp seeds and a primitive censer.
Richard Morris, director of the British Council
for Archaeology, said that references to cannabis, opium and other drug
finds were increasingly common in excavation reports from what, he said,
'should perhaps be renamed the Stoned Age'.