Pubdate: 15 May 1999
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: Guardian Media Group 1999
Author: Martin Wainwright


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 to 16,000BC 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'. 
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