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

Vandals destroy 22,000-year-old sacred cave art in Australia
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In a flat, arid part of the south AustraliaKoonalda Cave is home to 22,000-year-old art — a sacred site for the indigenous Mirning people and a discovery that is changing scientists’ understanding of history.

This protected cave and its art have now been vandalized with graffiti, leaving the local Mirning community devastated as authorities search for the culprits.

“Earlier this year, it was discovered that the cave had been illegally entered and part of the delicate fingers were destroyed, scratched on the edge of the cave,” a government spokesperson told CNN.

Along the soft limestone cave walls are grooves made by the fingers of Ice Age people.

“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 provide some of the earliest evidence of Aboriginal occupation in this part of the country,” the spokesman said.

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

The spokesman added that vandals had not been deterred by fences at the caves, so the South Australian state government was now considering installing security cameras and had been consulting traditional owners “over the past months” to better protect the site.

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

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

This incident has disappointed the People of Mirning, whose repeated pleas for greater security have been ignored.

As a sacred site, it is closed to the public and only accessible to a few male elders in the community, the group said in a statement. Apart from the spiritual significance of the cave, the restrictions are to protect the fine art, some of which are carved on the cave floor.

Despite legal protections, the group said it still receives requests to allow public access to Koonal.

“We opposed the opening of our sanctuary because it would violate the protocols that have protected Koonalda for so long. From 2018, we are asking for support to ensure the security of the entrance as a priority and to propose an appropriate Mirning plaque. This support has not been forthcoming,” the statement said. .

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

He added that as a site that represents a transition to Mirning ancestors and native land, Koonalda is “more than just a precious piece of art, it’s deep in our blood and our identity.”

Low importance

For decades, Australian scientists believed the country’s indigenous people had existed on land for about 8,000 years.

Koonalda Cave was the first site in Australia with indigenous rock art dating back 22,000 years, increasing the scientific community’s understanding of Australian history.

“The discovery caused a sensation and forever changed the then-accepted understanding of where, when and how Aboriginal people lived on the Australian continent,” Environment Minister Greg Hunt said in 2014 when Koonalda was inscribed on the National Heritage List.

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

In addition to finger grooves, the cave also contained a second type of petroglyphs, lines cut into harder limestone sections with a sharp tool. According to the government website, the walls have patterns of horizontal and vertical lines cut into a V shape.

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

“All of our elders are disappointed, shocked and hurt by the recent desecration of this site,” Lawrie said. “We are in mourning for our holy place. Koonalda is like our ancestor. Our ancestor left his soul on the wall, in the story, in the song.”

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