How Our Ancestors With Autistic Traits Led a Revolution in Ice Age Art

The ability to focus on detail, a common trait among people with autism, allowed realism to flourish in Ice Age art, according to researchers at the University of York.   
 (Image: via   wikimedia  /  CC0 1.0)
The ability to focus on detail, a common trait among people with autism, allowed realism to flourish in Ice Age art, according to researchers at the University of York. (Image: via wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Around 30,000 years ago, realistic art suddenly flourished in Europe. Extremely accurate depictions of bears, bison, horses, and lions decorate the walls of Ice Age archaeological sites such as Chauvet Cave in southern France. The ability to focus on detail, a common trait among people with autism, allowed realism to flourish in Ice Age art, according to researchers at the University of York.

LSD

Why our ice age ancestors created exceptionally realistic art rather than the very simple or stylised art of earlier modern humans has long perplexed researchers.

Many have argued that psychotropic drugs were behind the detailed illustrations. The popular idea that drugs might make people better at art led to a number of ethically-dubious studies in the 60s where participants were given art materials and LSD.

The authors of the new study discount that theory, arguing instead that individuals with “detail focus,” a trait linked to autism, kicked off an artistic movement that led to the proliferation of realistic cave drawings across Europe.

Realism

Lead author of the paper called How do we explain ‘autistic traits’ in European Upper  Palaeolithic art?, which was published in Open Archaeology, Dr. Penny Spikins from the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, said:

Focus

The research adds to a growing body of evidence that people with autistic traits played an important role in human evolution. Dr. Spikins added:

Provided by: University of York [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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