Divers race to avoid wasting prehistoric artwork from an underwater cave others have died making an attempt to achieve

To succeed in the one place on this planet the place cave work of prehistoric marine life have been discovered, archaeologists should dive to the underside of the Mediterranean off southern France.

Then they need to negotiate a 137 meter pure tunnel within the rock, passing by means of the mouth of the cave till they emerge into an enormous cavern, a lot of which is now submerged.

Three males have died making an attempt to find this ‘underwater Lascaux’ as rumors unfold of a cave matching one in southwest France that has fully modified the best way we view our age ancestors Stone.

Two archaeologists dive en path to the Cosquer cave off Marseille on April 27, 2022.

CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP through Getty Photos

Lascaux – which Picasso visited in 1940 – proved that the urge to make artwork is as previous as humanity itself.

Archaeologist Luc Vanrell’s life modified the second he surfaced inside Cosquer Cavern and noticed its beautiful photos. Even right this moment, 30 years later, he remembers the “aesthetic shock”.

However the cave and its treasures, a few of which date again greater than 30,000 years, are in grave hazard. Climate change and water and plastic air pollution threaten to clean away the artwork that prehistoric women and men created over 15 millennia.

Ever since a sudden almost five-inch rise in sea stage in 2011, Vanrell and his colleagues have been in a race in opposition to time to report no matter they’ll.

Annually, the excessive water mark rises just a few millimeters extra, consuming away on the previous work and sculptures a little bit extra.

“Indispensable for researchers”

Vanrell and the diver-archaeologists he leads should work ever quicker to discover the final corners of the 27,000 sq. foot cave in an effort to preserve observe of its Neolithic wonders earlier than they’re misplaced.

A close to life-size recreation of the Cosquer cavern will open this week just a few miles away in Marseille.

Safeguarding the Paleolithic heritage of the Cosquer cave
A visible artist works in a copy of a wall within the Cave Cosquer on the Alain Dallis workshop on June 24, 2021 in Montignac, France.

Patrick Adventurer/Getty Photos

AFP joined the dive staff earlier this yr as they raced to finish digital mapping for a 3D reconstruction of the cave.

Round 600 indicators, photos and carvings – a few of aquatic life by no means earlier than seen in cave work – have been discovered on the partitions of the massive cave 37 meters under the azure waters of the gorgeous creeks of the Calanques east of Marseille .

“We fantasized about bringing the cave to the floor,” says diver Bertrand Chazaly, who’s answerable for the cave digitization operation.

“When it’s completed, our digital Cosquer cave, whose precision is millimeter, shall be important for researchers and archaeologists who will be unable to bodily enter inside.”

The cave was “ten kilometers from the coast” when it was in use, archaeologist Michel Olive advised AFP. “On the time, we had been in the course of the ice age and the ocean was 135 meters decrease” than right this moment.

From the dive boat, Olive, answerable for learning the cave, attracts a finger on an unlimited plain the place the Mediterranean is now. “The cave entrance was on a small promontory dealing with south above a meadow protected by cliffs. It was an especially good place for prehistoric man,” he mentioned.

The cave partitions present that the coastal plain teemed with wildlife – horses, deer, bison, ibexes, prehistoric auroch cows, saiga antelopes but in addition seals, penguins, fish and a cat and a bear.

The 229 characters represented on the partitions cowl 13 totally different species.

However Neolithic women and men additionally left their mark on the partitions, with 69 purple or black handprints in addition to three left by mistake, together with by kids.

And that is not counting the lots of of geometric indicators and the eight sexual representations of female and male physique elements.

What additionally stands out in regards to the cave is how lengthy it was occupied, Vanrell mentioned, “33,000 to 18,500 years in the past.”

The density of its graphics locations “Cosquer among the many 4 largest rock artwork websites on this planet with Lascaux, Altamira in Spain and Chauvet”, additionally within the south of France.

“And since the partitions of the caves that are actually underneath water had been most likely additionally as soon as adorned, nothing else in Europe compares to its dimension,” he added.

Exploring Cosquer can be “addictive”, insisted the 62-year-old man, with glowing eyes. “Some individuals who have labored on the positioning are depressed in the event that they have not been down for some time. They miss their favourite bison,” he smiles.

For Vanrell, diving is sort of a “journey in itself”. The spirit “of the place seeps into you”.

“I got here throughout a handprint”

Henri Cosquer, knowledgeable deep-sea diver who runs a diving college, mentioned he discovered the cave by likelihood in 1985, simply 15 meters from the naked limestone cliffs.

Little by little, he dares to enterprise additional and additional right into a 137 meter lengthy breach within the cliff till the day he emerges by means of a cavity dug by the ocean.

“I arrived in a black cave. You’re soaked, you come out of the mud and also you slip… It took me a number of journeys to go round it,” he advised AFP.

“At first, I noticed nothing with my lamp after which I got here throughout a handprint”, says the diver.

Whereas the legislation says such findings have to be reported instantly to authorities to allow them to be preserved, Cosquer saved the information to himself and some shut mates.

“No person owned the cave. Whenever you discover a good place for mushrooms, you do not inform everybody about it, do you?” he mentioned.

However rumors of this aquatic Lascaux attracted different divers and three died within the tunnel resulting in the cave. Marked by the dramas, Cosquer confessed his discovery in 1991. The cave that bears his identify is now closed by a gate. Solely science groups are allowed inside.

Dozens of archaeological analysis missions have since been carried out to review and protect the positioning and draw up a listing of the work and engravings. However the sources started to expire when the a lot easier-to-access Chauvet was found within the Ardèche in 1994.

“It was a catastrophe”

It wasn’t till 2011 that issues began to alter when Olive and Vanrell sounded the alarm after fast sea stage rise triggered irreparable injury to some footage.

“It was a catastrophe, and it actually shook us psychologically,” Vanrell remembers, significantly the large injury to the horse drawings.

Luc Vanrell, archaeologist, solutions questions from journalists en path to the Cosquer cave off Marseille on April 27, 2022.

CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP through Getty Photos

“All the info reveals that the ocean stage is rising quicker and quicker,” mentioned geologist Stephanie Touron, a specialist in prehistoric adorned caves on the Laboratoire de recherche des monuments historique de France.

“The ocean rises and falls within the cavity with the climatic variations, washing away the partitions and washing away the ground and information-rich supplies,” she mentioned.

Microplastic air pollution additional aggravates injury to work.

Confronted with such an existential risk, the French authorities launched a serious marketing campaign to report every little thing in regards to the cavern, with archaeologist Cyril Montoya tasked with making an attempt to raised perceive the prehistoric communities that used it.

One of many mysteries he and his staff will try to unravel would be the hint of fabric on the cave wall, which might affirm a principle that hunter-gatherers made clothes in the course of the time the cave was occupied.

The pictures of long-maned horses additionally increase one other main query. Vanrell suspects this might point out that they might have as soon as been domesticated, at the least partly, since wild horses have shorter, shorn manes whereas galloping by means of bushes and vegetation. A drawing of what may very well be a harness might assist his principle.

Areas preserved underneath a layer of translucent calcite additionally present “charcoal remnants”, Montoya believes, which might have been used for portray or for heating or lighting. They could have even burned the coal above the stalagmites, turning them into “lamps to mild up the cave.”

However the central query of what the cave was used for stays an enigma, Olive admitted.

Whereas archaeologists agree folks did not stay there, Olive mentioned some imagine it was “a shrine, or a gathering place, or a spot the place they extracted milk of moon, the white substance on the partitions of caves (limestone) which was used for physique portray and for the background for work and sculptures.”

The thought of ​​making a reproduction of the positioning was mooted shortly after the invention of the cave. Nevertheless it wasn’t till 2016 that the regional authorities determined it will be in a renovated trendy constructing in Marseille subsequent to the Mucem, the museum of European and Mediterranean civilizations on the mouth of town’s Previous Port.

Utilizing 3D information collected by archaeological groups, the 23 million euro ($24 million) duplicate is barely smaller than the unique cave however consists of copies of all of the work and 90% of the carvings, mentioned Laurent Delbos of Klebert Rossillon, the corporate that copied the Chauvet collapse 2015.

Artist Gilles Tosello is likely one of the artisans who copied the work utilizing the identical charcoal and instruments as his Stone Age predecessors.

“Prehistoric artists wrote the rating a very long time in the past and now I am taking part in it,” he mentioned sitting in the dead of night in his studio, a element of a lighted horse in entrance of him on the recreated cave wall.

Visibly moved, he praised the good mastery and “spontaneity” of his prehistoric predecessors, whose assured brushstrokes clearly got here “from nice information and expertise. This freedom of gesture and this sureness by no means stop to amaze me”. , did he declare.


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