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On show at last: Ice Age man’s most dazzling art

Fantastic beasts: animals inside the cave
Fantastic beasts: animals inside the cave Credit: DEA / C. SAPPA/De Agostini/Getty Images

Lascaux, ‘the Sistine Chapel of cave paintings’, has been closed for 50 years. Now an uncanny, full-size replica is about to open. Henry Samuel gets a sneak preview

It’s more than magnificent, it’s a masterpiece. I thought I was in the real thing… Naturally it brings so many memories flooding to the surface,” says Simon Coencas.

The 89-year-old Frenchman is fighting back tears after reliving a discovery that would change the way not just he, but all humanity, would view our past.

It was September 12 1940 and the 13-year-old Simon was “looking for treasure” with two friends in the wooded hills above Montignac, in the heart of Dordogne. 

“There was a legend doing the rounds of an underground tunnel leading to a chateau and a casket full of gold,” he recalls. So when an older local boy told them that his dog had stumbled across a mysterious hole in the woods, the four decided to investigate....

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