RESEARCHERS HAVE DEBATED for decades over the relationship between hallucinogens and rock art. Ancient cultures around the world have left an intriguing legacy of abstract, even psychedelic-looking images on cliff faces and cave walls, but modern researchers argue over the motivation behind the creation of such artworks.
Until now there has been no physical evidence of the use of hallucinogens at rock art sites. But a surprising discovery at a site in southern California now provides proof that at least some people experienced the site in an altered state of consciousness centuries ago.
In a study published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an international research team reports that 400-year-old chewed-up wads of datura, a plant with powerful psychoactive properties, have been found stuffed into the cracks of the ceiling of a sacred cave. Located near the edge of the traditional territory of the Chumash people, the cavern had been dubbed Pinwheel Cave after the swirling red painting on its curved ceiling. Researchers think this artwork might represent a datura flower, which unfurls in a pinwheel shape at dusk, and that the site may have been a place for group ceremonies where datura was consumed.