During the Paleolithic era, then in the middle of the Ice Age, the sea level was much lower and the climate in Provence was close to that of Iceland. Our ancestors could access this cave on foot, as the Mediterranean Sea was then 1,500 meters below the current level.
They drew, painted and engraved more than two hundred animal figures (horses, bison, megaceros deer, aurochs, penguins, seals....) some human representations, hands (65 prints in positive or negative) sexual symbols and more than two hundred non-figurative signs.
This cave, in the Provençal cove of Morgiou, between Marseille and Cassis, was discovered only in 1985 by a speleologist diver (Henri Cosquer) by chance during an exploration. Only diving specialists can access it under 37 m of depth and after having borrowed a narrow tube of 116 m of depth, to discover two rooms, in the shape of 8, of a total surface of 2300m².
We owe the miraculous preservation of these works of cave art, to a combination of factors too fragile to guarantee the preservation of the cave in the future.
Subjected to overpressured air, the cave has, until today, maintained an interior surface lower than that of the sea. A sort of miraculous bubble. But the climatic variations which disturb the cycles of the swells, end up impacting this level and threaten the multi-millennial works.
The underwater cave will inevitably disappear under the rising Mediterranean waters and its works with it.
"To give to see what is already inaccessible and doomed to disappear, swallowed by the rise of the waters": such was the objective of the French Authorities of the Culture and the Archaeology. For this purpose, a complete reconstruction of the cave, on a scale of 0.96, was carried out by 3D digitization and photogrammetry.
For three years, many artists have reproduced, line for line, the gestures and works of our ancestors. Based on surveys of the prehistoric cave and high-resolution photos, the expert hands of the technicians of the Cultural Affairs and Archaeology Services have traced, using red ochre, charcoal (Scots pine) and manganese black, as the hunters of the so-called Gravetian period had done.
The reconstructed Cosquer Cave is finally open to the public and visitors, aboard exploration modules, can admire the panels of the identically reconstructed cave: horses drawn with charcoal, red or black handprints, engraved bison. Also appear the only marine animals represented on a Paleolithic site, penguins (the only known example), fish and seals.
The meanings of these works oppose the historians. The prehistorians of the XIX' century consider the rock art as the testimony of a simple aesthetic activity: the prehistoric man paints exclusively for the pleasure of painting. In 1903, Salomon Reinach proposed a sacred and magical interpretation of these paintings: to draw to possess. He envisages a secret rite, a magic of the hunt that would give man the power of domination over the animal at the time of its discovery and capture. Certain more recent analyses envisage fertility rites taking place in caves transformed into sanctuaries, sheltered and closed.
Make no mistake: despite its age, cave art is very technical, anything but improvised!
Marc Azèma summarizes the know-how of cave art: "To represent a motif, figurative or abstract, Paleolithic artists used engraving, painting or sculpture - and in many cases, combined the three - and took advantage of the possibilities offered by the texture and shape of the walls and floors."
We can assume that in reality, any artistic act must have required some preparation:
- looking for the mineral with the right color (manganese, limonite...)
- then crush it to obtain a "spreadable" material
- eventually make a brush,
- choose and cut the right stone to engrave the rock,
- prepare a portable light...
In short, a real "work" thought out and organized which demonstrates, if it were still necessary, that art preceded literature in our History and which moves us all the more by the sincerity and the humanity which it releases that we know that it will disappear. For ever.
Source: The December Art Group