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Stone Age Stonecutters: Prehistoric people benefited from Israeli scholars

Prehistoric people have sought psychedelic experiences in deep and narrow caves, according to a team of Israeli scientists in an article published in The Journal of Archeology, Consciousness and Culture last week.

“People have always been fascinated by caves. Underground cavities and cavities in the mountains have played a special role in the ontology and cosmology of local societies, past and present, ”explained Jafit Kedar, a PhD candidate in the Department of Archeology and Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Cedar’s research focuses on understanding the effects of smoke and air circulation on humans in Paleolithic caves and rock shelters.

“A few years ago, while visiting some decorated caves in France, I began to notice that most of the images were deep in very narrow caves,”

; she told The Jerusalem Post. “I began to wonder why they chose to work this way instead of painting at the entrance to wider caves, where they could enjoy a little natural light.”

More than 400 decorated caves have been discovered in Western Europe, whose paintings date from the Upper Paleolithic period – between 40,000 and 11,000 years.

Researchers began to consider the possibility of prehistoric humans, penetrating caves several hundred meters deep, being a conscious choice that allowed them to connect with their space, with the low concentration of oxygen in these environments acting as a drug.

“The natural concentration of oxygen in the atmosphere is 21%,” Kedar explained. “The lower oxygen concentration creates a condition known as hypoxia.”

Hypoxia occurs officially when the oxygen concentration is below 18%.

Its symptoms, the researcher said, include dizziness and headaches, but also euphoria and increased dopamine release – which can lead to hallucinations and out-of-body experiences, especially if the oxygen level drops below 14.5%.

The team, which includes independent researcher Gil Kedar and TAU professor of prehistoric archeology Ran Barkay, simulated the use of artificial light in various enclosed spaces in caves to analyze conditions in such contexts in Upper Paleolithic caves.

The combination of limited air circulation and the use of burners and oil lamps reduced the oxygen concentration below 18% in 15 minutes, dropping the percentage to 11%. People can survive in an environment as long as the percentage is over 9%.

According to researchers, the altered state of mind caused by hypoxia has also affected the practice of painting in caves.

“We suggest that the images themselves be seen as one of the components of human connection and interaction with space, and not as the sole and ultimate goal of the people who created them in the deepest depths of the cave,” they wrote in the article.

“We argue that entering these deep, dark caves was a conscious choice motivated by an understanding of the transforming nature of an underground, oxygen-depleted space.”

The next step for the team will be to find out more about how many people could take in these caves at the same time in terms of oxygen levels as well as the number of torches.

“After I started the computer simulation, I would like to measure oxygen levels in real caves,” Kedar concluded.

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