The Cosquer Caves

In a book I’m reading, the prehistoric art in the Cosquer Caves plays a major part, which is fun since I’d never heard of them, though in my defense, my last research into cave paintings preceded the discovery of the caves.

The Cosquer Caves are an underground — and undersea — treasure of cave art. Carbon dating shows two distinct timeframes for the art — around 19,000 BP and 27,000 BP.

[I looked up the definition of BP so you don’t have to. It means “Before the Present,” but since the date of the “present” changes every year, they have chosen the rather arbitrary-seeming date of 1950 to mean the present, which seems silly to me because they exchanged one rather arbitrary date for another. I understand why people don’t like the previous designation of BC because of the mention of Christ, but since he was not born in the year 0, the year itself didn’t mean anything. “They” did try to change the BC to BCE — Before the Common Era — but apparently, 1950 makes better sense to them for a starting date, even though it doesn’t to me.]

The caves weren’t discovered until 1985 when Henri Cosquer, a diver who was exploring the Calanques (a series of cliffs and bays not far from Marseilles), happened to notice a hole in the side of a cliff wall, 36 meters (118 feet) below the surface. And so he discovered the caves, which soon bore his name. Although the caves were made known almost immediately, the first mention of the cave art (all sorts of animals as well as hand tracings) came in 1991 when three divers got lost in the cave and subsequently died.

Before the sea began to rise after the last ice age ended, the Cosquer Caves were located several miles inland. The waters are still rising, slowly submerging the caves, and now the entrance to the caves has been closed off. If you wish to experience the caves, you don’t need to make the dangerous journey under water and through perilous tunnels (even if they were still open) — a replica of the caves has been recreated. Oddly, they have been recreated as they were found — underwater — rather than on land where they originated.

I find this story interesting for several reasons.

One: that such an important discovery wasn’t made public until the three divers died. I’m not exactly sure what that says about us as a species, but it does seem rather true to form.

Two: That the cave paintings came from two such distant eras. Generally, the art found in paleolithic sites seems to be done all in the same era and then is forgotten or just left alone as people move on. It’s been postulated that this was a site visited by nomadic peoples or world travelers, which could be true or just a guess to explain the diversity.

Three: Proof of how climates always change.

There are many terms that really get on my nerves: veggies, 110%, intestinal fortitude, to name a few. But my current most unfavorite is “climate change” because it’s redundant. Climate is change. Climate is always changing. We tend to think we live in a bubble, where what is always was, but this long period of rather temperate weather we’ve been experiencing since the little ice age, is a rather a rarity in the vast history of the earth. (The little ice age was a cold interval from the mid-fourteenth century through the mid nineteenth century. There were even colder intervals of cold between the main interval, the final one from 1840 to 1880.)

Although I am not disagreeing that humans have an effect of the climate, and in a bubble where outside things don’t affect what is in the bubble and where the bubble itself never changes, what we are seeing would definitely be human-caused. But other factors could be at work — sun spots and solar discharges are one hypothesis to account for some of the current climate. Others hypothesize that we are still coming out of the last ice age, and that our activities may or may not be aggravating that warming trend. Or it could be something completely different, perhaps even another planet in our solar system as the Sumerians believed (a belief I made use of in my novel Light Bringer), and the planet’s return from its remote journey into space is playing havoc with our climate.

We tend to think we know all there is to know about the earth and climate and human history, but the rather recent discovery of these caves and the art that was so important to humans back in those far distant days, shows us that we don’t know everything, shows us that we don’t live in a bubble, shows us that there are still surprises.

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Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

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