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Vandals destroy 22,000-year-old sacred rock art in Australia

In a flat, arid part of southern Australia, Koonalda Cave is home to 22,000-year-old artwork, a site sacred to the indigenous Mirning people and a discovery that transformed people’s understanding of history. the scientists.

This protected cave and its art have now been vandalized with graffiti, devastating the Mirning indigenous community as authorities hunt for the culprits.

“Earlier this year, it was discovered that the cave had been illegally accessed and that part of the delicate finger grooves had been vandalized, with scratch damage to the side of the cave,” a spokesperson for the cave said. government in a statement to CNN.

Flutes are grooves carved by the fingers of Ice Age humans through the soft limestone cave walls.

“The vandalism of Koonalda Cave is shocking and heartbreaking. Koonalda Cave is of significant importance to the Mirning people, and its tens of thousands of years of history show some of the earliest evidence of Aboriginal occupation in this part of the country,” the spokesperson said. said.

“If these vandals can be apprehended, they must face the full force of the law.”

Vandals have not been deterred by the caves’ fencing, so the South Australian state government is now considering installing security cameras and has consulted traditional owners “in recent months” on the way to better protect the site, the spokesperson added.

However, Bunna Lawrie, a Mirning elder and Koonalda caretaker, said he had not heard of the vandalism until local media reported it this week.

“We are the traditional custodians of Koonalda and ask that this be respected and that our Mirning elders be consulted,” he said in a statement.

The incident has frustrated the people of Mirning, who say their previous repeated requests for heightened security have gone unheeded.

As a sacred site, it is closed to the public and accessible only to a few elderly men in the community, the group said in a statement. Besides the spiritual significance of the cave, the restrictions are also meant to protect the delicate art, some of which is carved into the floor of the cave.

Despite legal protections, the group said it has always received requests to allow public access to Koonalda.

“We objected to the opening of our sacred place, as it would violate the protocols that have protected Koonalda for so long. Since 2018, we have been requesting assistance to secure entry as a priority and to provide proper Mirning signage. This aid did not take place,” the statement said.

“Instead, there has been damage in recent years, including the collapse of the entrance to the cave, following access works on which we were not consulted and (did not not been) approved.”

He added that as a site representing the connection to the Mirning’s ancestry and homelands, Koonalda “is more than a treasured work of art, it is deeply ingrained in our blood and our identity”.

Meaning of the cave

For decades, Australian scientists believed that the country’s indigenous peoples had only existed on the earth for around 8,000 years.

Koonalda Cave was the first place in Australia with indigenous rock art believed to date back 22,000 years, shaking up the scientific community’s understanding of Australian history.

“The discovery caused a stir and forever changed then-accepted notions of where, when and how Aboriginal people lived on the Australian mainland,” Greg Hunt, then environment minister, said in 2014 when Koonalda was designated a site of the National Heritage List.

According to the country’s Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water, the dating of the rock art was assessed using archaeological remains and fingerprints and then confirmed at using radiocarbon technology.

Besides the finger flutes, the cave also featured a second type of rock art, with lines cut into harder limestone sections using a sharp tool. The walls feature patterns of horizontal and vertical lines cut into a V-shape, according to a government website.

The cave and its art have been overseen and protected by Mirning elders for generations, according to the Mirning statement.

“All of our elders are devastated, shocked and hurt by the recent desecration of this site,” Lawrie said. “We mourn for our sacred place. Koonalda is like our ancestor. Our ancestor left his spirit in the wall, in history, in song.”

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