An exciting Jeddah jungle safari experience

Marseille: In a creek in Marseille, they adjust their masks and move from the boat to the Mediterranean. At a depth of 37 meters, these diver-archaeologists will arrive at the entrance of a “Lascaux underwater” Coscar cave, endowed with unique drawings of the world and under threat of extinction.

The cave, more than 30,000 years old, can be entered through the main entrance to the sea floor in the south of France, followed by a submerged trench more than 100 meters which goes up and leads to a cave of 2,500 m2, which is basically submerged.

Arriving there, the still dry walls relate to the carvings and drawings of high Paleolithic, especially marine animals, seals and penguins, unpublished on the great world site of prehistoric archeology. An “aesthetic shock” that marks a life, says archaeologist Luke Vanrell, 62, of whom 30 have studied the site.

But today this cave is under threat of disappearance. After a sudden rise of 12 centimeters above sea level in 2011, the maximum water level is rising a few millimeters per year.

Today this cave is under threat of disappearance. (AFP)

For these French scientists, it is a competition against time because of the rising global water levels, coupled with the global warming associated with marine pollution, weakening the masterpieces of the parietal industry year after year.

To keep track of this unique heritage, diver-archaeologists are intensifying their exploration, especially to finalize a virtual presentation of the cave, while a few kilometers away, in the center of Marseille, technicians and artists are completing a replica. For the general public, which will open on June 4.

This spring, the mission is to continue 3D digital mapping of cave walls, where about 600 “graphic entities” are already listed.

“Our goal is to bring the cave to the surface,” smiled Bertrand Chazali, one of the divers, the head of digitization operations. “Finally, our Virtual Cosquer Cave, with millimeter accuracy, will be an essential research tool for curators and archaeologists who cannot physically access the site.”

“Unique in shape”

“At that time, we were in a complete glacier, with an elevation of 135 meters below sea level and another 10 kilometers off the coast,” said archaeologist Michelle Olive, archaeologist in charge of the study of the cave at the Regional Service (DRAC).

From the scientific mission boat, he drew with his finger a huge space that is now covered by the Mediterranean. “The entrance to the cave, slightly elevated and facing south, facing a vast plain covered with grass and protected by mountains, is a very favorable place for prehistoric people,” he says.

The decorated walls of the cave bear witness to the various animals present on the site: horses, ibex, bovids, deer, bison and saiga antelopes, but seals, penguins, fish as well as a cat and bear … a total of 229 figures of 13 species are presented.

Seventy-nine red or black hand stencils and three involuntary handprints of children are also listed, as well as hundreds of geometric symbols and eight male and female sexual representations.

Luke Vanrel, who was present during the expedition, explained that “a graphic richness due to the exceptional period of frequent density in caves by prehistoric men and women” is -33,000 years from present and -18,500 years ago.

“The concentration of graphic representations puts Coscar at the level of the four largest caves in the paleolithic parietal art world, with Altamira in Spain, Las Caucasus and Chauvete in France,” he speculates. “And since it is possible that the underwater walls were now largely ornate, this makes Coscar a unique site in Europe.”

For this enthusiastic archaeologist with a square face and a smiling eye, “this is an addictive site.” “Some speakers who haven’t been in the cave for a long time feel bad. They want their favorite bison,” he laughs.

He likens his dive to an “inner adventure.” “No one brags in this space isolated from Earth, we stand in the environment,” he said.

Discovered by chance

In 1985, Henry Coscar, a professional diver and organizer of a diving school, said he discovered the cave’s underwater entrance 15 meters off the coast. Periodically, he dares to enter a long moat rising 137 meters before rising into a hole dug by water and time in the limestone capital.

“One day, I appeared in a dark cavern. When you get wet, you come out of the mud, you slip. It took me a while to get around it. At first, I couldn’t see anything with my lamp. And then I put one hand on the painting. It all started there, “he told AFP.

Although the law is obliged to declare such an invention without delay for preservation, man will preserve it for a long time, for himself and his relatives. “No one had this cave. When you find a good mushroom place, will you tell everyone?”, He said fairly.

But rumors of an “underwater lasagna” are spreading, attracting divers. The three cavities will die in the leading intestine. Henry Coscar, 72, who was identified by the tragedy, formalized his discovery with authorities in 1991. The cave, proving to be a major prehistoric site, will bear its name. But its entrance, protected by a gate, will now be reserved for the scientific team.

“Irreparable damage”

Over the next thirty years, dozens of archeological missions were conducted to study and preserve the site and to list its graphic resources. However, the allotted routes suffer competition from the Chauvet Cave, which was later discovered, in 1994, but is easy to access.

But, in the summer of 2011, Michelle Olive and Luke Vanrell sounded the alarm after noticing a sudden rise in water levels and irreversible damage to certain panels. “It was a catastrophe, a shock that shattered us psychologically,” recalls Luke VanRale, referring to the enormous loss of horse drawing.

“All the data collected shows that the water level is rising faster and faster,” said Stephanie Touron, a well-known cave expert geologist at the French Research Laboratory for Historical Monuments. “The ocean, which rises and falls in cavities according to climatic variability, washes away the walls and weakens the rich soil,” he says.

Coscar Cave also suffers from the consequences of microplastic contamination which accelerates the deterioration of the painting.

Faced with this threat, the French state, the owner of a site classified as a historic monument in 1992, launched a national study to register the heritage as soon as possible.

A new mission, led by archaeologist Cyril Montoya, aims to better understand the activity of prehistoric men in the cave, should begin this summer.

“Puzzle to solve”

One of the outstanding mysteries is the fortunate impression of a woven material on a wall, which may confirm the presumption of making garments by hunter-gatherers when the cave is frequently visited.

The presentation of horses with long cargo also raises questions. Luke Vanrel sketched a first pet or at least a pen guess of an animal by man because in the wild the manes are short, almost in the shape of brushes, shaped by plants at the mercy of story horses. Drawing lines to create a kind of shoe reinforces this assumption.

“Archaeological soils preserved beneath a layer of calcite” (a mineral) should also be studied, explains Cyril Montoya, who mentions the conversion of “coal residues” used for painting or “heated areas on stalagmite” into “lampposts” to illuminate. Has done. Cave “

Michelle Olive admits that the central question of cave use remains unanswered. If archaeologists agree that our distant ancestors did not live there, some say “sanctuary, others a meeting place, or even a place where mundalich (also called moon milk, the editor’s note) was obtained), this white thing is used for body painting walls Used as a support for painting and engraving “, he explained.

“Replica bet”

With the discovery of the cave came the idea of ​​creating a replica for a huge crowd. But for the Provence-Alpes-Cটte d’Azur region, it will have to wait until 2016 to decide whether to place it in a Mediterranean villa, an unused modern building in the historic center of France’s second city. Museums, Museums of Europe and Mediterranean Civilizations.

For the Klebert Russilon Company, responsible for the design, construction and operation of the restructuring – a মিল 23 million project, funded by ten regions – the challenge was high: fitting the cave replica into a small space. Be as loyal to the original as possible. Finally, after a slight reduction in scale, “1,750 m2 of caves, 100% painted walls and 90% carved walls will be shown,” assures Laurent Delbos, who is in charge of the site.

To stay afloat, the company has benefited from 3D modeling data from the cave collected by archaeologists under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture (Drake Paka). And he relied on a team of experts to replicate the decorated caves, with which he had already made a replica of the Chauvet Cave in Ardeche (southeastern France) in 2015.

“Prehistoric artists wrote scores long ago (a), I am one of their interpreters”, “said visual artist Giles Tosello, 66, who tried to reproduce prehistoric drawings with as much fidelity as possible using the same tools and charcoal. On time

Sitting in the dark in his Toulouse studio facing the stucco cave scale illuminated by a projector, the artist copied the details of a horse and told AFP of his passion: This freedom of gesture, this certainty will not stop me from wondering to the end. “

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