France to create virtual copy of threatened cave paintings

February 26th, 2011 - 5:10 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Feb 26 (ANI): Expert divers have teamed up with top scientists in France to create a complete virtual copy of unique cave paintings threatened by rising Mediterranean waters.

The Cosquer caves have almost 200 stunning prehistoric paintings that can only be reached by diving deep into the Mediterranean off the coast of Marseilles.

Henri Cosquer, a local diver, discovered the caves in 1985. To reach them he had to swim 37m down to the undersea cave entrance off the calanques outside Marseilles, then along a 175m tunnel, which eventually rose above sea level, reports the Telegraph.

To his amazement, once in the open air he found dozens of pristine paintings between 18,000 to 27,000 years old. These included land-dwelling animals such as wild horses, ibex and bison, but also sea animals such as seal, giant penguins and what appear to be auks and jellyfish.

There were also 55 ancient handprints, many with fingers mysteriously missing. At the time, hunters could enter the caves on foot, but melting glaciers subsequently flooded the entrance with water.

Cosquer only made his discovery public after three divers perished in the tunnel to the caves in 1991, when authorities welded an iron door into concrete slabs to block the cave mouth.

With new scientific research suggesting that the Mediterranean is rising, the unique site is under threat of being completely submerged. Already, four fifths of the Paleolithic caves are now underwater.

Luc Vannel, one of the scientists leading the mission said, “The cave is in danger of one day being squashed as flat as a pancake. Already the water is washing the colours away.”

So this month, the culture minister announced it had begun mapping the caves using the same ultra-precise laser 3D imaging techniques used to chart the walls of Lascaux in the Dordogne-the world’s best-preserved cave painting site. (ANI)

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