A museum in Marseille displays a replica of prehistoric cave drawings

Journalists visit a replica of the Cosquer Cave in the Villa Cosquer Méditerranée in Marseille.AP . image

Henry Cusker rides his boat in Cassis, on the Mediterranean. He sails towards Marseille and stops at a rocky outcrop. There he puts on his diving suit, descends under the water and finds an opening in the rocks at a depth of 37 meters. He goes inside and swims with his oxygen bottle and lamp through another 116m underwater passage. And at the end of that tunnel a complete bewilderment on the part of the diver.

Cosker reappears in a remote and vast cave. “There I saw a handprint on the rock wall. I didn’t understand it,” he says now, looking back at that underwater trip in 1990.” And it turned out there were more handprints. Only when I dived again a few days later and came back to the cave did I see All other graphics.

Prehistoric inscriptions

In total, it turns out that there are more than five hundred photos. They are drawings made of charcoal. There are pictures carved on the walls, a kind of “prehistoric carving.” About half of them are animals: horses, fish, caribou and even … penguins! Moreover, dozens of black and red handprints, human figures and unknown figures were found.

“It was a complete surprise to me,” Cosker says. “It was really a discovery. Anyway, I am not a scientist, I am just a diver.” When his discovery was announced in 1991, there was essentially skepticism. He didn’t believe him. And no one could verify this: the entrance was deep under the water.

“At that time, there was only one specialized archaeologist with experience in diving in France: Jean Cortin. He entered the cave at a depth of 37 meters.” Curtin was surprised. Kuzker has already discovered a real underwater treasure, in an area where such ancient caves had not been found before.

It turns out that the drawings and inscriptions date back to the Paleolithic era. They were made from 33,000 years ago to 19,000 years ago, when the cave was still above water. The French press rejoiced, “It is one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the century.”

But the prehistoric cave is in danger. Due to sea level rise, spaces and passages are slowly becoming underwater. The water level near Marseille is rising about 3 millimeters a year: about 80 percent of the cave is already flooded.

Horses with their feet in the water

Some of the horses on the walls are now running with their legs “in the water”. The other photos have completely disappeared. “It’s a historical monument that is weakening without we can do anything about it,” says archaeologist Gabriel Braha. Even if we close the main entrance, water will still seep through the cracks. In the long run, everything will be under water and drawings dating back tens of thousands of years will disappear.”

It turns out that there is only one way to “save” drawings and inscriptions: to make an exact copy. In recent years, specialists have dived into the water with special laser, photographic and film equipment. Images and data have been digitized to obtain the most accurate 3D version possible. It exists now: in Marseille, on the sidewalk, in the form of a museum: Villa Cosquer Méditerranée – named after the discoverer.

“The cave itself is very large and eccentric, with ceilings very low at times. So we had to make some alterations in the museum, but other than that, it is like walking in a cave,” says Baraha, who was involved in developing the villa.

Hands and animals: everything is visible. In the cave were found “sexual” drawings from prehistoric times, such as the female pubic area. “These kinds of drawings were normal in those days.” Penguins also appear in the museum. “There were penguins in the Mediterranean in the Ice Age, yes. The temperature there was -15 degrees in the winter. Now you have crickets in Marseille, then there are the penguins.”

Cave cloning was a titanic feat. Using laser scans and images, the cave walls were recreated on a layer of resin, with all the holes and protrusions found in the real cave as well. Drawings and engravings were applied there, partly using robots, and partly by hand.

It took a year and a half to imitate it as faithfully as possible. “During our research, we discovered the branches that people used at the time. They set fire to the cave to provide light in the cave and then used it as charcoal to make the murals,” explains Gil Tosilo, who is involved in reproduction as an artist and anthropologist. “We have imitated this way of working as closely as possible with today’s charcoal.”

Since June 4, the public can see it for themselves. “I’m proud, yes,” said Henry Cusker, discoverer of Cassis Diver. “I had to wait about thirty years for that, but now everyone can finally see what I saw underwater for the first time.”

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