Algerian Cave Paintings Suggest Humans Did Magic Mushrooms 9,000 Years Ago

We mod­erns might won­der what ancient peo­ples did when not hunt­ing, gath­er­ing, and repro­duc­ing. The answer is that they did mush­rooms, at least accord­ing to one inter­pre­ta­tion of cave paint­ings at Tas­sili n’A­j­jer in Alge­ria, some of which go back 9,000 years. “Here are the ear­li­est known depic­tions of shamans with large num­bers of graz­ing cat­tle,” writes ethnobotanist/mystic Ter­ence McKen­na in his book Food of the Gods: The Search for the Orig­i­nal Tree of Knowl­edge. “The shamans are danc­ing with fists full of mush­rooms and also have mush­rooms sprout­ing out of their bod­ies. In one instance they are shown run­ning joy­ful­ly, sur­round­ed by the geo­met­ric struc­tures of their hal­lu­ci­na­tions. The pic­to­r­i­al evi­dence seems incon­tro­vert­ible.”

McKen­na was­n’t the only schol­ar of the psy­che­del­ic expe­ri­ence to take an inter­est in Tas­sili. Gior­gio Samor­i­ni had writ­ten about its ancient paint­ings a few years before, focus­ing on one that depicts “a series of masked fig­ures in line and hier­at­i­cal­ly dressed or dressed as dancers sur­round­ed by long and live­ly fes­toons of geo­met­ri­cal designs of dif­fer­ent kinds.” Each dancer “holds a mush­room-like object in the right hand,” but the key visu­al ele­ment is the par­al­lel lines that “come out of this object to reach the cen­tral part of the head of the dancer.” These “could sig­ni­fy an indi­rect asso­ci­a­tion or non-mate­r­i­al flu­id pass­ing from the object held in the right hand and the mind,” an inter­pre­ta­tion in line with the idea of “the uni­ver­sal men­tal val­ue induced by hal­lu­cino­genic mush­rooms and veg­e­tals, which is often of a mys­ti­cal and spir­i­tu­al nature.”

The U.S. For­est Ser­vice acknowl­edges Tas­sili as “the old­est known pet­ro­glyph depict­ing the use of psy­choac­tive mush­rooms,” adding the pos­tu­late that “the mush­rooms depict­ed on the ‘mush­room shaman’ are Psilo­cybe mush­rooms.” That name will sound famil­iar to 21st-cen­tu­ry con­scious­ness-alter­ation enthu­si­asts, some of whom advo­cate for the use of psilo­cy­bin, the psy­che­del­ic com­pound that occurs in such mush­rooms, as not just a recre­ation­al drug but a treat­ment for con­di­tions like depres­sion. Cave art like Tas­sil­i’s sug­gests that such instru­men­tal uses of hal­lu­cino­genic plants — as vital parts of rit­u­als, for exam­ple — may stretch all the way back to the Neolith­ic era, when last the Sahara desert was a rel­a­tive­ly ver­dant savan­na rather than the vast expanse of sand we know today.

A sense of con­ti­nu­ity with the prac­tices of these long-ago pre­de­ces­sors — ancient Egyp­tians to the ancient Egyp­tians, as one Red­di­tor frames it — must enrich mush­room use for many psy­cho­nauts today. And indeed, the “bee-head­ed shaman” and his com­pa­tri­ots have had a robust cul­tur­al after­life: “A pop­u­lar­ly pub­lished draw­ing based on one of the Tas­sili fig­ures has become an icon of post-1990’s psy­che­delia,” says Bri­an Akers of Mush­room: The Jour­nal of Wild Mush­room­ing. The “abstract-bizarre” style of its images have also put it “among the sites favored by ancient ET the­o­riz­ing.” How­ev­er rich the visions expe­ri­enced by the cave-painters who once lived there, sure­ly none could have been as mind-blow­ing as the idea that their work would still fire up imag­i­na­tions nine mil­len­nia lat­er.

via Red­dit

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Gold­en Guide to Hal­lu­cino­genic Plants: Dis­cov­er the 1977 Illus­trat­ed Guide Cre­at­ed by Harvard’s Ground­break­ing Eth­nob­otanist Richard Evan Schultes

Psilo­cy­bin Could Soon Be a Legal Treat­ment for Depres­sion: Johns Hop­kins Pro­fes­sor, Roland Grif­fiths, Explains How Psilo­cy­bin Can Relieve Suf­fer­ing

Was a 32,000-Year-Old Cave Paint­ing the Ear­li­est Form of Cin­e­ma?

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Blanca L Mejia says:

    I’m appalled at the way my phone has got­ten invad­ed by dif­fer­ent “population/vendors.
    It seems that sud­den­ly your domain over­pow­ers my abil­i­ty to per­form freely.
    With all due respect, I do not like your new sys­tem.
    Blan­ca L M

  • Kalvin says:

    It seams to me that this us due to the funghe­lian par­a­site of the mis­sile toe fam­i­ly… The fact that the eater looks like an ant eater is no sur­prise. Con­sid­er­ing the fun­gal crea­ture inhab­its oth­er crea­tures and often mutates them. As a pupa crea­ture in evo­lu­tion ulti­mate ly it will bring pros­per­i­ty to nature.. Out of those that choose devour those who know the worth and the poten­tial of that they’ve cho­sen will. Meta morph in crys­tal­iza­tion. And be as bet­ter cho­sen whether apart, of, with, Or with­out shall be as tru­ely desir­able espe­cial­ly with respect, integri­ty, val­i­da­tion, per­fect­ly. So warn­ing dont eat those there famous­ly impair­ing. Many have got­ten con­fused and ate the wrong mush­room and then became in engulfed.

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