by Jean Clottes, Jean Courtin, Luc Vanrell
Prehistoric Images and Medicines Under the Sea
Luc Vanrell, Jean Courtin & Jean Clottes examining the engravings
Already, Cosquer has significantly added to our knowledge of cave art. The presence of many sea animals and that of unusually numerous ibex and chamois testify to the influence the local environment played in the myths. The Cosquer Cave was located a few miles from the shore in an environment of limestone hills favourable to these animals. It is no coincidence then that the artists chose to represent the local fauna. This has not always been the case. In the deep Vicdessos valley, in the Ariège Pyrénées, where the Magdalenians of La Vache mostly hunted ibex, the cave art of Niaux
, the cave right across the valley half an hour’s walk from La Vache, shows an overwhelming majority of bison and horses.
Right from the beginning, by studying superimpositions of figures, we could determine the two main phases in the art of Cosquer, the earlier one including the hand stencils and the finger tracings, while most of the animal paintings and engravings appeared to belong to the later phase. This was confirmed by direct radiocarbon dating, when 27 dates were obtained which for the most part cluster into two groups, one around 19,000 BP and the other around 27,000 BP. After the Chauvet Cave
, Cosquer is the rock art site where most radiocarbon datings have been made in the world (Clottes & Courtin 1994, 1996, Clottes et al. 1996, 1997).
In the summers of 2002 and mostly of 2003, after one of us (Jean Clottes) learnt how to scuba-dive for the express purpose of going to the cave, we did an in-depth study of it. First, we carried out a careful examination of the walls and roofs with the help of LED lamps, which are the best sources of light to discover fine engravings, to work out their superimpositions and, more generally, to study the traces of human activities on the surfaces. As we proceeded with the examination, we checked the already existing descriptive forms (from the data recorded before) and completed them according to the criteria we had worked out, so that they would be homogeneous. All the drawings were systematically measured, as well as their height in relation to the ground, and we recorded their characteristics, those of the wall and of the ground, the superimpositions and the presence of other images nearby. Each was precisely pinpointed. Each was also sketched on the form. This systematic work enabled us to find out many errors which we corrected and to discover a number of new images that had gone unnoticed till now. That work and all the conclusions it led us to have just been extensively published in a new book (Clottes, Courtin, Vanrell 2005).
The total of figures is now 177 animals. They belong to 11 different species, which is rather unusual in Upper Palaeolithic art, since if 14 species are represented in Chauvet
, only 6 are known in Niaux
and 9 in Lascaux. The 11 species in Cosquer are horses, bison, aurochs, ibex, chamois, saiga antelope, red deer (stags and does), megaloceros deer, feline, auks, seals. In addition, we have discovered 1 human with a seal's head, 44 black hand stencils and 21 red hand stencils, 216 geometric signs, 20 indeterminate figures, 7 others (like traces, holes in the walls, etc). We have now 78 more animal figures than those recorded in our preliminary book (Clottes & Courtin 1994, 1996).
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