The Dampier Archipelego. (© Robert G.Bednarik, via Blue Shield Australia)
According to a statement issued by the Yinhawangka Aboriginal Corporation, on the 24th of May, as part of its mining operations, Rio Tinto blew up two ancient deep-time rock shelters in the burrip Peninsular, Australia, with evidence of human occupation dating back to 46,000 years ago. Few early dates for the region have exceeded 30,000 years. Several significant artefacts were uncovered, including the earliest use of grindstone technology in the Pilbara, and a macropod fibula, sharpened into a pointed tool, believed to date back approximately 28,000 years. Furthermore, plaited human hair dating back 4000 years was recovered from the excavations, part of a ‘hair belt’ worn by the PKKP Traditional Owners and yielding DNA associated with the contemporary PKKP people. There are few archaeological Aboriginal sites known to be this old. Indeed, this is one of the earliest occupied locations not only on the western Hamersley Plateau, but also in the Pilbara, as well as nationally and globally. The decimation of these rare and unparalleled sites of profound archaeological and cultural significance has deeply distressed the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people. And with Reconciliation Week about to kick off, this loss could not be more disheartening.
The UNESCO Chair of Cultural Property Protection and Peace and Vice-President of Blue Shield was interviewed on ABC News about the destruction.
He called the destruction “A real tragedy” and said he was “Desperately sorry for the community”. He also commented that “Rio Tinto has an appalling track-record of damage to and destruction of indigenous sites and places globally, that they had been trying to address this (albeit in a limited way), but this event took us back to square one”.
Blue Shield Australia have prepared a press release on the issue, which provides more details on the devastating destruction, and places it in the wider context of destruction of aboriginal sites: Blue Shield Australia Press Release: Destruction Juukan Gorge Rockshelters_release_ENG