By Gayle Keck
The present is catching up to the past. For millennia, Native Americans have entered altered states of consciousness for social, ceremonial, recreational, and medicinal reasons. Now, in modern times, substances that induce altered states are gaining legitimacy for many uses, including treating PTSD and depression. This new acceptance has sent a flood of funds to universities and start-up companies. It has also sparked new interest among archaeologists.
David Robinson, an archaeologist at the University of Central Lancashire, emphasizes an important distinction between modern hallucinogen use and Indigenous use, however. “We call it ‘entering into a hallucinogenic state,’” he explained. “They would call it making the world that is typically invisible become visible, enabling them to encounter a supernatural world. We consider that hallucinations and dreams are not real. To them, it is just a different reality—like looking through a microscope and seeing a different world.”
Depending on the psychoactive agent, humans could “experience visual and auditory hallucinations, the feeling of flight or swimming, and extreme emotional experiences including fear and perhaps the sense of dying,” according to Christine VanPool, an archaeologist at the University of Missouri. They can see geometric images, including “dots, grids, lattices, honeycombs, checkerboards, arcs, cobwebs, tunnels, stars, and spirals.”
This is an article excerpt from the Summer 2022 edition of American Archaeology Magazine. Become a member of The Archaeological Conservancy for your complimentary subscription!