MARSEILLES, France — Divers have discovered prehistoric paintings that may be among the best preserved in Europe in a grotto accessible only by an underwater passage.
The cavern, near the southern port of Marseilles, is filled with well-preserved paintings of deer, horses, seals and bison as well as imprints of human hands.
Scientists said it is as important a find as the caves of Lascaux in southwestern France, until now considered the best-preserved prehistoric frescoes in Europe.
"This is an exceptional discovery," archeologist Alain Defleur said Friday. "The site is in excellent condition. It is as though Paleolithic man had only just left it."
The grotto, thought to date from between 12,000 and 20,000 BC, was discovered several months ago but scientists kept the find secret while they investigated it fully.
Last month three divers died mysteriously while trying to approach the grotto, whose entrance is hidden underwater at the end of a narrow creek at Sormiou, east of Marseilles.
An underwater passage leads up to a cavernous air pocket above sea level. Some 30 paintings and imprints cover a wall 160 feet wide.
"I felt like Indiana Jones," said diver Thierry Pelissier, describing how it felt to find the grotto.
Its inaccessibility means that it is unlikely to be opened to the public. The hillside Lascaux caves were closed in 1963 because scientists said human breath was slowly eroding the wall paintings.