Aboriginal heritage sites dating back 46,000 years have been destroyed by mining giant Rio Tinto in Western Australia’s Pilbara.
The blasts on Sunday took place at ancient cave sites known to be culturally important and the subject of a soon to be published archaeologist report.
Rio Tinto’s decision to blast sites at Juukan Gorge, 60 kilometres north-west of Mount Tom Price on the west Hamersley Plateau, was not illegal.
The international mining conglomerate’s Brockman 4 iron ore mine is at the same location, and Rio Tinto obtained ministerial consent to excavate in the region back in 2013.
Nine.com.au has contacted Rio Tinto for comment, but the mining company has said it tries to avoid blasting locations near cultural sites “where practicable”.
Rio Tinto received permission to conduct the blasts in 2013 under Section 18 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act.
But after permission was granted, archaeological research found numerous highly significant artefacts at the site, some dating back to before the last Ice Age.
Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Rio Tinto’s destruction of the rare site was “disgraceful”.
“I am appalled and deeply upset for the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people who have been treated with such blatant disregard and disrespect by the State Government and Rio Tinto,” Ms Hanson-Young wrote on her Facebook account.
“The destruction of this sacred site highlights another one of the failings of Australia’s environment laws. It’s clear we need stronger laws, not weaker ones or we will continue to see our environment and sacred sites destroyed for big business.”
On its Facebook page, The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre likened the destruction of Juukan to the Taliban blowing up ancient statues in Afghanistan.
“But the dig turned up finds whose significance exceeded all expectations,” the report said.
Archaeologists discovered a 28,000-year-old tool made from bone and a piece of a 4000-year-old plaited hair belt, belonging to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura traditional owners.
The archaeological report on the site is scheduled to be published later this year.
The Sydney Morning Herald said the report will declare the site’s importance could not be over-stated.
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