Art Diving

(Note from the author: microphone is out of commission, but the podcast will be up soon)

Henri Cosquer is a dive instructor in Southern France. While teaching SCUBA diving clients one day in 1985, he discovered a small underwater opening in the cliff wall. He returned several times during the month of September, slowly making his way further into the dark, murky tunnel. Finally, he discovered an air pocket in a large cavern on the other side. Cosquer would keep this cave a secret for several years until July 9th, 1991… when he discovered a handprint stenciled on the wall.

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The interior view of Cosquer Cave
The interior view of Cosquer Cave

Although he initially thought it was modern graffiti, Cosquer soon found more paintings and realized this was a pre-historic art site. For the next few months, he and a friend worked hard to document everything they could. They even created a topological map of the cave! By September 3rd, they had documented enough that it felt right to report their findings to Naval Affairs Headquarters in Marseilles. But news of the discovery spread quickly and another group attempted to explore the cave… only one was able to make it out of the murky waters, the other three drowned.

Henri Cosquer in the cave he discovered
Henri Cosquer in the cave he discovered

Following this incident, the contents of the cave were made public and access was restricted, but official documentation continued. What they discovered was paintings and carvings of animals, and stencils of hands throughout the cavern. Compared to other decorated caves, there is a much greater amount of sea life depicted…

Jellyfish on the walls
Jellyfish on the walls

Jellyfish, seal, great auk (a type of sea bird), fish, and octopus are all depicted on the walls. The animals weren’t the only interesting point either, the handprints along the walls seem to indicate different things. While most hand positions can’t be deciphered this far in the future, there are several handprints in front of a sudden drop… seeming to be a warning of the fall.

Hands, warning of a falling hazard
Hands, warning of a falling hazard

With such an astounding discovery, the team immediately went to work to protect it by placing a locked steel gate in the way. However, it was discovered a group of at least 5 broke in around the gate (luckily they caused no damage). Research continued but was difficult. It was once suggested that a tunnel be dug from the surface, but with the pressure… the cave would immediately flood under that plan. So dives went on, and in one such dive in 2003 they discovered children’s handprints 8 feet from the floor (presumably kids standing on adult shoulders). The cave is highly protected today, but you can find 65 photos of the cave on the French Culture and Communication website right here.

The "Cosquer Penguins" are likely depictions of the great auks.
The “Cosquer Penguins” are likely depictions of the great auks.

Music: The Carnival of the Animals – VII. Aquarium by Camille Saint-Saëns, performed by Markus Staab

2 thoughts on “Art Diving

  1. So have they made sure, what is the date of it ?
    Or any relation, what culture it might have been?
    How long was the way to the gave… and how the people got in to there before..

    1. Researchers are fairly confident the artwork is between 27,000 and 19,000 years old. It’s unlikely to be any newer because the sea level rose above the entrance of the cave after that point. Before 19,000 years ago, it was possible to walk into the cave instead of swimming!

      Amazing how the world changes, isn’t it?

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