EUROPEANS may have used magic mushrooms to liven up religious rituals 6000 years ago. So suggests a cave mural in Spain, which may depict fungi with hallucinogenic properties – the oldest evidence of their use in Europe.

The Selva Pascuala mural, in a cave near the town of Villar del Humo, is dominated by a bull. But it is a row of 13 small mushroom-like objects that interests Brian Akers at Pasco-Hernando Community College in New Port Richey, Florida, and Gaston Guzman at the Ecological Institute of Xalapa in Mexico. They believe that the objects are the fungi Psilocybe hispanica, a local species with hallucinogenic properties.

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Over twenty years ago, researchers came upon what they said were the 3.5 billion-year-old remains of bacteria fossils in western Australia’s Apex Chert Formation. But new research by a team of geologists from the University of Kansas debunks that claim, arguing instead that what was under review was actually an assortment of minerals – basically a ”series of quartz and haematite-filled fractures.”

If their contention holds up, it would overturn what had supposedly been the oldest example of evidence of life found on Earth.