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Rio Tinto Blasts Aboriginal Heritage Sites in Pilbara

Mining News - Published on Wed, 27 May 2020

Image Source: Rio Tinto Aboriginal Heritage Site
A sacred site in Western Australia that showed 46,000 years of continual occupation and provided a 4,000-year-old genetic link to present-day traditional owners has been destroyed in the expansion of an iron ore mine. Sydney Morning Herald reported that Aboriginal heritage sites of major significance have been destroyed in Western Australia in Pilbara, with a mining company having obtained legal permission to blast the sites before the sites’ full riches were uncovered. Juukan Gorge is 60 kilometres north-west of Mount Tom Price on the west Hamersley Plateau, which Aboriginal people first occupied more than 46,000 years ago. It is also the site of the Brockman 4 iron ore mine. This cave in the Juukan Gorge, dubbed Juukan 2, was destroyed in a mining blast on Sunday. Consent was given through outdated Aboriginal heritage laws drafted in 1972.

PKKP Aboriginal Corporation said that they tried to negotiate to stop the blast or at least limit damage to the shelters, but it was impossible and unsafe to remove live charges. It said “Our people are deeply troubled and saddened, grieving the loss of connection to our ancestors as well as our land. Losing these rock shelters is a devastating blow. There were less than a handful of known Aboriginal sites in Australia as old as this; studies had shown it was one of the earliest occupied locations not only on the western Hamersley Plateau, but also in the Pilbara and nationally.”

Rio Tinto has long known that a group of Juukan rock shelters held heritage significance, but deemed them too close to the ore body to avoid. In the process of pursuing ministerial consent to blast an Aboriginal heritage site, Rio Tinto consulted traditional owners and carried out archaeological and ethnographic surveys over a 10-year period to identify places of significance before finally receiving the ministerial consent in 2013. In 2014 the company funded a salvage mission at two of the rock shelters to safeguard any artefacts as a final measure, but the dig turned up finds whose significance exceeded all expectations. Archaeologist Michael Slack found grinding and pounding stones and a 28,000-year-old tool made from bone, each one of the oldest examples of these technologies known in Australia; and a piece of a 4000-year-old plaited hair belt whose DNA has been linked to that of today’s Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura traditional owners.

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Posted By : Yogender Pancholi on Wed, 27 May 2020
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