An Aboriginal site in Western Australia which is estimated to be 46,000 years old has been destroyed in order for an iron ore mining to be constructed in its place. The shelter caves of Juukan Gorge 1 and 2, which carry significant historical and cultural inheritance, were obliterated by detonating explosives, according to ABC News.

The two shelters were located approximately 60km north-west of Mount Tom Price on Hamersley Plateau. Prior archeological research had shown that the caves were occupied by Aboriginal people over 46,000 year ago – the oldest known inhabited caves on the plateau.

An excavation of the shelters carried out in 2014, uncovered a wealth of artifacts going back as far as 28,000 years ago. The artifacts include sacred objects and tools. The cave also has a 4,000 year-old lock of plaited human hair. Upon genetic analysis of the hair, it was established that the inhabitants of the caves were direct ancestors of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) people, the current owners of the area.

Burchell Hayes, a Director of PKKP Aboriginal Corporation and Kurrama Land Committee member told Ngaarda Radio:

“It’s terrible. And it’s really emotional when you hear that the sites have been destroyed and the age of those sites and that the Puutu Kunti Kurrama people and the Pinikura people have got a direct connection to that site. That’s where our ancestors occupied that country. It’s really, really hard to swallow that — it’s no longer there”.

The demolition was authorised in 2013 by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, in line with the 1972 Aboriginal Heritage Act which allows for mining opportunities to take place. However, the act has been under severe criticism for being outdated. According to the act, activities destroying any Aboriginal site must be first approved by the Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee.

Surprisingly, there is no requirement that an Indigenous person is part of the committee and no right to appeal against it is granted.

The multinational mining company responsible for the destruction, Rito Tinto, said in a statement:

“In 2013, ministerial consent was granted to allow Rio Tinto to conduct activity at the Brockman 4 mine that would impact Juukan 1 and Juukan 2 rock shelters. Rio Tinto has worked constructively together with the PKKP people on a range of heritage matters under the agreement and has, where practicable, modified its operations to avoid heritage impacts and to protect places of cultural significance to the group.”

[Based on reporting by: IFL science]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.