Mining Firm Rio Tinto Apologizes For Destroying 46,000-Year-Old Aboriginal Caves

The notable mining firm Rio Tinto has issued an apology after blowing up the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge caves in Western Australia as part of an expanded iron ore project, BBC reported earlier today.

The aboriginal caves dated back to the last ice age and were located in the Pilbara region.

An article published by The Guardian claimed the detonation obliterated at least two ancient rock shelters.

In 2013, the mining firm was given approval for the iron ore project, but then ancient artifacts were discovered at the site, including a sharpened bone and grinding stones.

BBC reported that “a belt made from human hair, analysis of which showed a direct link going back 4,000 years between” the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura People (PKKP) “and the prehistoric cave-dwellers” was also found at the Juukan Gorge.

According to the BBC article, the firm had an agreement with authorities to destroy the caverns.

The piece by The Guardian said Rio Tinto previously asserted that PKKP representatives did not make it evident that the site was to be preserved. However, Burchell Hayes, a PKKP spokesman, denied the claims, alleging that the site’s importance was told to the mining firm “as recently as March.”

Hayes further stated that they only learned of the firm’s explosive intentions on May 15.

Per the BBC, Chris Salisbury, the iron ore chief executive of Rio Tinto, said the firm was “sorry” for causing distress, particularly to the PKKP. They were the “traditional” site owners.

“We will continue to work with the PKKP to learn from what has taken place and strengthen our partnership. As a matter of urgency, we are reviewing the plans of all other sites in the Juukan Gorge area.”

PKKP representative John Ashburton called the destruction a “devastating blow.”

He added that there are very few aboriginal sites as old as the Juukan Gorge caves, making it a vital part of history.

“Our people are deeply troubled and saddened by the destruction of these rock shelters and are grieving the loss of connection to our ancestors as well as our land,” said Ashburton.

The mining firm has been in search of other interests in Australia, aside from the ore, including diamonds, uranium, and more.

Blowing up the caves has been called a “genuine mistake” by Ken Wyatt, the Australian Minister for Indigenous Affairs.

Wyatt is aboriginal himself, and while he believed the destruction to be unimaginable, he also seemed to think it was a failure of state laws that allowed the explosive decision to occur.

The Guardian stated that the state government is reportedly considering a bill to help protect the cultural heritage of the aboriginal people, but the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has delayed the process.

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