The Cosquer cave is located in the Ardeche department, on the
Mediterranean coast, close to the mouth of the Rhone river, some miles from
Marseilles. In 1985 a professional diver Henri Cosquer discovered a narrow passage
some 36 meters under the level of the sea, which led, slightly rising, in the thick layer
of the coast sedimentary rocks. He visited the passage several times, but every time
he went back, not reaching its end, until in September 1985, he emerged finally into
the main chamber about 160 meters from the entrance, full of the calcite draperies,
crystals of aragonite and submerged stalagmites. He did not notice any paintings at
first and kept his secret to himself, until in summer 1991 he returned to the close
exploration of his cave. In July 1991 he saw the first painting- it was a hand stenciled
in red on the dry wall of the large chamber. The entire French and European press
was interspersed with sensation news.
The answer to the first question (how did the entrance in the cave submerge deep
in the water?) is rather simple. The last ice age had ended about 10-9 millenia and
melting of the huge glacier began. The level of the World Ocean rose 120 meters high,
if compared with the ice age. When the cave was visited by ancient people the
entrance in the inclined passage was not under the water but, on the contrary, 80
meters above the sea level and 11 kms from the coast up the mountainside.
The second question (how old are the paintings?) was answered soon after
their discovery. Counting of the atom number of the radioactive carbon in the
painting scrapes showed that the earliest depictions (hand stenciles made with black
pigment on the base of charcoal) are almost 28000 years old, and the latest ones -
almost 18000 years old (depictions of horses, ibex, seals and, probably, penguins,
which lived there in the Ice Age).
The Cosquer cave paintings will be studied for a long time. It is impossible to
get into the cave without special equipment or being unexperienced in deep-sea
swimming. In summer 1992 three divers perished there. After that dramatic incident
the entrance in the underwater cave was closed and the passage was fitted with a
lifeline. Only some specialists have visited the cave.The French Ministry of Culture
set up a special commission to study the Cosquer cave, headed by a prominent
specialist in Paleolithic art, General Conservator of the National Heritage, Jean
Clottes. At the photo you can see Jean Courtin (at left), an archaeologist and diver,
and Henri Cosquer, the discoverer of the cave.
Jean Clottes (at left) and Jean Courtin wrote and published the book "La
grotte Cosquer" and its english version "The Cave Beneath the Sea" with a great
number of marvelous photos by Antoine Chene.