An underworld connection: Ancient people may have created cave art while hallucinating!

Cave art

Stone age people may have deliberately ventured into oxygen-depleted caves to paint while having out-of-body experiences and hallucinations, according to a new study.

An underworld connection: Ancient people may have created cave art while hallucinating! 5
An artistic depiction of a group of rhinoceros, was completed in the Chauvet Cave in France 30,000 to 32,000 years ago.

By analyzing cave paintings from the Upper Paleolithic period, some 40,000 to 14,000 years ago, researchers at Tel Aviv University discovered that many were located in narrow corridors or passages deep within navigable cave systems with only artificial light.

The study focuses on decorated caves in Europe, primarily Spain and France, and offers an explanation of why cave painters would choose to decorate areas deep within cave systems.

“It seems that the Upper Paleolithic people hardly used the interior of the deep caves for daily household activities. Such activities were carried out mainly in open-air places, rocky shelters or cave entrances,” the study reads. But why would people go through the trouble of walking through narrow cave passages to make art?

These prehistoric rock paintings are in Manda Guéli Cave in the Ennedi Mountains, Chad, Central Africa. Camels have been painted over earlier images of cattle, perhaps reflecting climatic changes.
These prehistoric rock paintings are in Manda Guéli Cave in the Ennedi Mountains, Chad, Central Africa. Camels have been painted over earlier images of cattle, perhaps reflecting climatic changes © David Stanley

To answer this question, a group of researchers at Tel Aviv University focused on a characteristic of such deep, narrow caves, especially those that require artificial light to navigate: low levels of oxygen. The researchers ran computer simulations of model caves with different passageway lengths that lead to slightly larger “hall” areas where paintings may be found and analyzed the changes in oxygen concentrations if a person was to stand in the different parts of the cave burning a torch. Fire, such as that from torches, is one of several factors that depletes oxygen inside caves.

They found that oxygen concentration depended on the height of the passageways, with the shorter passageways having less oxygen. In most of the simulations, oxygen concentrations dropped from the natural atmosphere level of 21% to 18% after being inside the caves for only about 15 minutes.

Such low levels of oxygen can induce hypoxia in the body, a condition that can cause headache, shortness of breath, confusion and restlessness; but hypoxia also increases the hormone dopamine in the brain, which can sometimes lead to hallucinations and out-of-body experiences, according to the study. For caves with low ceilings or small halls, the oxygen concentration dipped as low as 11%, which would cause the more severe symptoms of hypoxia.

The researchers hypothesize that ancient people crawled into these deep, dark spaces to induce altered states of consciousness. According to Ran Barkai, co-author and professor of prehistoric archaeology, “painting in these conditions was a conscious choice designed to help them interact with the cosmos.”

“It was used to connect with things,” added Barkai. “We don’t call it rock art. It is not a museum.” Cave painters thought of the rock face as a membrane connecting their world to the underworld, which they believed to be a place of abundance, Barkai explained.

Reproductions at the Museo del Mamut, Barcelona 2011
Reproductions at the Museo del Mamut, Barcelona 2011 © Wikimedia Commons / Thomas Quine

The cave paintings depict animals such as mammoths, bison, and ibex, and their purpose has long been debated by experts. The researchers argued that the caves played an important role in the belief systems of the Upper Paleolithic period and that the paintings were part of this relationship.

“It was not the decoration that made the caves significant, but quite the opposite: the importance of the chosen caves was the reason for their decoration,” the study reads.

Barkai also suggested that the cave paintings could have been used as part of a kind of rite of passage, given the evidence that children were present. Additional research will examine why the children were brought into these deep cave areas, as well as investigate whether the people were able to develop resistance to low oxygen levels.

The findings were published on March 31 in “Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture”

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  1. Indeed many are curious over discoveries of surffisticated intelligence and prehistoric arts, which are most times attributed to extraterrestrial,or any other species.
    This has only been a wonder because those who are in the place of Authority who knows little or nothing about YAWEH not about his plan and power have by chance made themselves the Apha and Omega of knowledge and it doesn’t matter what will be the future effect of their aguements and Authoritative conclusion and declarations.
    But the truth remain that the Earth is as old as 5-6 billion years old, and I could remember that the foundation of the first city in the Earth was laid about 4.5billion years ago .
    The Authoritative truth is that even the reptiles are one of the most recent on Earth, and that seven races of life forms have been here and some those you revered are true inhabitants who developed and have found other homes some where because of the increasing temperature and effects of unfriendly radiation from the sun. It must be noted that the specae “Man” or who has these body attributes (Mammalian hormonal traits, unquantified intergalactic communication ability and grace to come before the very presence of his creator) have been here for three to four times.
    The first inhabitants of this planet, I don’t mean species are the true creators of the stars and planets who are hundreds of thousand kilometers tall from the CENTRAL UNIVERSE OF ALL UNIVERSES they know no death because it is not their nature, who after creating the first species stayed a bit with them in the galactic zones or environments before they left to other places of divine assignments which we now call realms and dimensions to enable perfect and undisturbed growth and progress of the created Life forms.

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