A group of boys discovered the 18,000 year-old cave paintings in 1940.

By Jess McHugh
Updated: December 13, 2016
Regis Duvignau/AFP/Getty Images

French President Francois Hollande and other members of the government toured Lascaux 4, a full-size replica of the ancient cave paintings located in the Dordogne region of France, this weekend, before the attraction’s public opening Thursday.

The more than 18,000-year-old paintings depict bulls, deer, and other large animals that were native to the region. Art critics have long singled out the Lascaux paintings for their complexity and movement, insisting on the need to preserve the works of art.

“They were extraordinary technicians, reproducing animal likenesses from memory with their highly vivid movements,” Gilles Lafleur, chief painter on the project, told Agence-France Presse earlier this year.

Regis Duvignau/AFP/Getty Images

Often called the “Sistine Chapel of prehistory,” the Lascaux cave paintings may be up to 20,000 years old, and UNESCO has included the site on its world heritage list since 1979.

Tourists used to be able to visit the Lascaux caves, but archeologists and art historians discovered that the amount of carbon dioxide being exhaled caused severe damage to the integrity of the paintings and visitors have been banned since 1963.

Two other replicas exist, though neither is as complete and to scale. A team of 30 people working over four years completed the project, at a cost of about 66 million euros ($70 million), AFP reported.

“What is lost in not having the real thing is balanced by the fact people can see so much more of the detail of the wonderful paintings and engravings,” artistic decorator Nicolas St-Cyr told The Guardian.

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A group of young boys first discovered the cave while playing with one of the children’s dogs in 1940. The dog sniffed out an entrance to the cave, and the boys cut a hole to get inside, bringing down paraffin lamps to hunt for treasure.

The only surviving person from that group of boys is Simon Coencas, 89, who attended Saturday’s event as a guest of honor.

“We were hoping to find a treasure,” he told AFP. “We found one, but not the one we thought we would.”

Visitors interested in visiting Lascaux 4 can reserve tickets online. Ticket prices are 16 euros, or approximately $17 for adults, and 10.40 euros, or approximately $11 for children.