Ancient Artists May Have Used Oxygen Deprivation to Get High

Ancient Artists May Have Used Oxygen Deprivation to Get High

The practice might help explain why ancient artists used to seek out the darkest recesses of caves.

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A new study seeks to explain why ancient cave painters often drew up their images in the darkest, narrowest passages of caves.

They were "motivated by an understanding of the transformative nature of an underground, oxygen-depleted space," archaeologists from Tel Aviv University say in the study, which appears in the latest issue of Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture.

In other words, the artists knew that these narrow spaces — alongside the oxygen-depleting effects of a burning torch — would deprive them of oxygen and get them high.

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The study argues that this oxygen deprivation helped the artists tap into their most creative impulses and connect with the cosmos through hallucinatory imagery.

Connecting to the cosmos through torch and cave

In the study, the archaeologists describe how they "simulated the effect of torches on oxygen concentrations in structures similar to Paleolithic decorated caves and showed that the oxygen quickly decreased to levels known to induce a state of hypoxia."

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