A 3D replica of the underwater Grotte Cosquer with its palaeolithic cave art is to open in Marseille in June to bring the site to life before it is swamped by the sea.
The Cosquer Méditerranée replica has been built in the Villa Méditerranée, near the port’s MUCEM museum, and shows a cave discovered in 1985 by diver Henri Cosquer in the Calanques National Park creeks near Marseille.
It will have millimetre-accurate copies of more than 500 works of cave art made in two periods of occupation about 33,000 and 19,000 years ago when the sea was between six and 20km away.
The first groups of Homo sapiens left simple handprints but the later group drew horses, aurochs and deer, as well as penguins and seals.
Today the entrance is 37m below sea level and many works have been lost... with the legs of some of a series of six horses being washed away by the sea.
The replica joins others at Lascaux in Dordogne and Chauvet in Ardèche – sitting between them in historic time. It allows visitors to see the art in almost-real situations, split into sections to fit into Villa Méditerranée.
Kléber Rossillon, which worked on the Chauvet replica, was chosen for the project, which is a scientific and technological feat with cutting-edge technology, expertise and artistic skill.
Alain Dalis, of Arc & Os, the cave art replica specialists involved, said: “A cave wall is never uniform: there are parts of the surface that are matt, shiny, and translucent, due to flows of water and calcite. Everything has to be recreated.
“There comes a time when you move beyond the projection phase and try to work like a painter – learning how the works were made and trying to equal the speed at which they were executed.”
Cosquer Méditerranée opens on June 4 and visitors enter via a floating walkway and into a lift with videos of the cave tunnel. A robot vehicle then winds between 220m of rock art panels. For more details, see grotte-cosquer.com