To achieve the only position in the earth exactly where cave paintings of prehistoric maritime existence have been uncovered, archaeologists have to dive to the bottom of the Mediterranean off southern France.
Then they have to negotiate a 137-property all-natural tunnel into the rock, passing by the mouth of the cave right until they emerge into a substantial cavern, considerably of it now submerged.
A few adult males died striving to find this “underwater Lascaux” as rumors distribute of a cave to match the just one in southwestern France that fully modified the way we see our Stone Age ancestors.
Lascaux — which Picasso visited in 1940 — proved the urge to make art is as previous as humanity by itself.
Archaeologist Luc Vanrell’s lifetime transformed the second he surfaced within the Cosquer cavern and saw its staggering pictures. Even now, 30 a long time on, he remembers the “aesthetic shock.”
But the cave and its treasures, some courting back additional than 30,000 decades, are in grave hazard.and h2o and plastic pollution are threatening to clean absent the art prehistoric guys and women developed around 15 millennia.
Since a unexpected in the vicinity of-5-inch increase in the sea stage there in 2011, Vanrell and his colleagues have been in a race in opposition to time to document almost everything they can.
Each individual yr the superior h2o mark rises a handful of extra millimeters, feeding on absent a small extra of the historic paintings and carvings.
“Indispensable for researchers”
Vanrell and the diver-archaeologists he prospects are owning to get the job done quicker and a lot quicker to examine the past corners of the 27,000 sq. foot grotto to maintain a trace of its neolithic miracles just before they are misplaced.
An virtually existence-sized recreation of the Cosquer cavern will open up this week a few miles absent in Marseille.
AFP joined the dive workforce before this calendar year as they raced to finish the digital mapping for a 3D reconstruction of the cave.
Around 600 symptoms, visuals and carvings — some of aquatic daily life never ever just before found in cave paintings — have been identified on the walls of the huge cave 37 meters beneath the azure waters of the amazing Calanques inlets east of Marseille.
“We fantasized about bringing the cave to the surface area,” reported diver Bertrand Chazaly, who is in cost of the operation to digitalize the cave.
“When it is finished, our digital Cosquer cavern — which is precise to in just millimeters — will be indispensable for scientists and archaeologists who will not be in a position to physically get inside of.”
The cave was some “10 kilometers from the coast” when it was in use, archaeologist Michel Olive informed AFP. “At the time we have been in the center of an ice age and the sea was 135 meters lower” than it is these days.
From the dive boat, Olive, who is in demand of researching the cave, attracts with his finger a vast plain exactly where the Mediterranean now is. “The entrance to the cave was on a little promontory dealing with south over grassland safeguarded by cliffs. It was an incredibly superior put for prehistoric guy,” he mentioned.
The partitions of the cave show the coastal basic was teeming with wildlife — horses, deer, bison, ibex, prehistoric auroch cows, saiga antelopes but also seals, penguins, fish and a cat and a bear.
The 229 figures depicted on the walls go over 13 different species.
But neolithic males and girls also left a mark of by themselves on the partitions, with 69 crimson or black hand prints as properly as a few left by oversight, such as by small children.
And that does not depend the hundreds of geometric indications and the 8 sexual depictions of male and woman human body pieces.
What also stands out about the cave is the size of time it was occupied, explained Vanrell, “from 33,000 to 18,500 several years back”.
The sheer density of its graphics puts “Cosquer amongst the 4 major cave art web-sites in the planet together with Lascaux, Altamira in Spain and Chauvet,” which is also in southern France.
“And simply because the cave walls that are currently underwater have been possibly also after adorned, absolutely nothing else in Europe compares to its dimension,” he included.
Exploring Cosquer is also “addictive”, the 62-12 months-old insisted, with a twinkle in his eye. “Some people today who have been operating on the website get frustrated if they haven’t been down in a although. They skip their favored bison,” he smiled.
For Vanrell, diving down is like a “journey into oneself”. The spirit “of the spot seeps into you.”
“I came across a hand print”
Henri Cosquer, a specialist deep sea diver working a diving faculty, stated he found the cave by probability in 1985, just 15 meters off the bare limestone cliffs.
Little by very little he dared to enterprise further more and additional into 137-metre-long breach in the cliff until just one working day he arrived out by means of a cavity slash out by the sea.
“I arrived up in a pitch-dark cave. You are soaking, you appear out of the mud and you slide about… It took me a several visits to go proper about it,” he advised AFP.
“At the commence, I noticed absolutely nothing with my lamp and then I arrived throughout a hand print,” the diver reported.
Even though the law dictates that these kinds of discoveries should be declared quickly to the authorities so they can be preserved, Cosquer stored the news to himself and a few close mates.
“Nobody owned the cave. When you find a very good spot for mushrooms, you you should not notify absolutely everyone about it, do you?” he reported.
But rumors of this aquatic Lascaux drew other divers and three died in the tunnel major to the cave. Marked by the tragedies, Cosquer owned up to his discovery in 1991. The cave which bears his title is now sealed off by a railing. Only scientific groups are authorized within.
Dozens of archeological study missions have been carried out considering the fact that to review and maintain the web-site and make an stock of the paintings and carvings. But assets commenced to drain absent when Chauvet, which is a lot simpler to obtain, was learned in the Ardeche location in 1994.
“It was a disaster”
Only in 2011 did points commence to adjust when Olive and Vanrell raised the alarm right after the quick rise in the sea degree led to irreparable injury to some photos.
“It was a catastrophe, and it genuinely shook us psychologically,” Vanrell recalled, particularly the massive problems to the horse drawings.
“All the knowledge shows that the sea level is mounting a lot quicker and more rapidly,” explained geologist Stephanie Touron, a expert in prehistoric painted caves at France’s historic monuments exploration laboratory.
“The sea rises and falls in the cavity with variations in local climate, washing the walls and leeching out soil and components that are wealthy in information and facts,” she said.
Microplastic pollution is earning the injury to the paintings even worse.
In the deal with of this sort of an existential danger, the French authorities has released a main thrust to record almost everything about the cavern, with archaeologist Cyril Montoya tasked with seeking to better recognize the prehistoric communities who employed it.
1 of the mysteries he and his team will try to resolve will be the trace of fabric on the cave wall, which could affirm a theory that hunter gatherers had been earning apparel at the time when the cave was occupied.
Illustrations or photos of the horses with prolonged manes also raises one more key problem. Vanrell suspects this could indicate that they may possibly have been by now domesticated, at minimum partly, considering the fact that wild horses have shorter manes, shorn down by galloping through bushes and vegetation. A drawing of what might be a harness might again up his idea.
Areas preserved beneath a layer of translucent calcite also show the “stays of coal”, Montoya believes, which could have been made use of for portray or for heating or lighting. They may well even have burned the coal on major of stalagmites, turning them into “lamps to light-weight the cavern”.
But the central problem of what the cave was made use of for continues to be an enigma, Olive admitted.
Even though archaeologists agree that persons did not are living there, Olive claimed some believe that it was a “sanctuary, or a conference position, or somewhere they mined moon milk, the white compound on (limestone) cave walls that was utilized for body paint and for the history for paintings and carving.”
The thought of producing a replica of the internet site was 1st mooted quickly after the cave was found. But it wasn’t until finally 2016 that the regional govt determined that it would be in a renovated modern creating in Marseille subsequent to Mucem, the museum of European and Mediterranean civilizations at the mouth of the city’s Outdated Port.
Applying the 3D details collected by the archaeological groups, the 23-million-euro ($24-million) duplicate is a little lesser than the unique cave but contains copies of all the paintings and 90 p.c of the carvings, stated Laurent Delbos from Klebert Rossillon, the firm which copied the Chauvet cave in 2015.
Artist Gilles Tosello is just one of the craftspeople who has been copying the paintings using the identical charcoal and equipment that his Stone Age forerunners utilised.
“The prehistoric artists wrote the rating very long in the past and now I am actively playing it,” he mentioned sitting in the darkish in his studio, a element of a horse lit up in advance of him on the recreated cave wall.
Plainly moved, he hailed the excellent mastery and “spontaneity” of his prehistoric predecessors, whose assured brush strokes plainly arrived from “fantastic information and expertise. That liberty of gesture and sureness hardly ever ceases to amaze me,” he mentioned.