Based on critical responses to my ritualized mind alteration hypothesis of the origins of symbolic cognition in early human evolution, I was led to consider the possible availability of psychoactive substances in African and European prehistory. This led to a fruitful collaboration with Guzmán and Guzmán-Dávalos, who are experts on the genus Psilocybe. The result of our work has just been released in Economic Botany (click on title below for a preprint PDF).
Tom Froese, Gastón Guzmán, and Laura Guzmán-Dávalos
The role of altered states of consciousness in the production of geometric and figurative art by prehistoric cultures in Africa and Europe has been hotly debated. Helvenston and Bahn have tried to refute the most famous hypothesis, Lewis-Williams’ neuropsychological model, by claiming that appropriate visual hallucinations required the ingestion of LSD, psilocybin, or mescaline, while arguing that none of these compounds were available to the cultures in question. We present here mycological arguments that tell another story. A prehistoric worldwide distribution of the mushroom genus Psilocybe, and therefore of psilocybin, is supported by the existence of endemic species in America, Africa, and Europe, the disjunct distribution of sister species, and the possibility of long-distance spore dispersal. It is more difficult to point to instances of actual prehistoric ritual use in Africa and Europe, but there are a growing number of suggestive findings.