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

In a flat, arid stretch of southern Australia, Koonalda Cave contains 22,000 years of art, a sacred site for indigenous mortals and a discovery that has changed how scientists understand history.

This protected cave and its art have now been vandalized by graffiti, ravaging the local community of Mirning as authorities search for the culprits.

“Earlier this year, it was discovered that the cave had been trespassed and some of the delicate finger bends were damaged and there were scratches on the side of the cave,” a government spokesperson said in a statement to CNN.

Grooves are grooves carved by Ice Age humans’ fingers through the soft limestone cave walls.

“The vandalism of Koonalda Cave is shocking and heartbreaking. Koonalda Cave is very important to the Mirning people and its tens of thousands of years of history provide some of the earliest evidence of Aboriginal occupation in that part of the country,” the spokesman said. said

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

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Vandals have not been deterred by cave fencing, and the South Australian state government is now considering installing security cameras and has been consulting with traditional owners “in recent months” on how to better protect the site, the spokesman added.

But Bunna Lawrie, a senior elder in Mirning and patron of Koonalda, said he had not heard of the vandalism until it was reported by local media this week.

“We are the traditional custodians of Koonalda and we ask that you respect that and consult with our Mirning elders,” he said in a statement.

The incident has upset the Mirning People, who say their previous repeated requests for more security have been ignored.

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

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

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“We objected to the opening of our sacred site as it would violate the protocols that have protected Koonald for so long. We have been asking for support since 2018 to secure priority entry and offer appropriate Mirning signs. This support has not materialized,” the statement said.

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

It adds that as a site that links to Mirning’s ancestors and homelands, Koonalda “is more than just a precious piece of art, it runs deep into our blood and identity”.

The meaning of the cave

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

Koonalda Cave was the first site in Australia to contain 22,000-year-old rock art, increasing the scientific community’s understanding of Australian history.

“This discovery caused a sensation and forever changed the then-accepted notions of where, when and how Aboriginal people lived on the Australian continent,” then Environment Minister Greg Hunt said in 2014 when Koonalda was listed as a national heritage site.

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The dating of the cave art was estimated from archaeological remains and fingerprints, then confirmed using radiocarbon technology, according to the country’s Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water.

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

The cave and its art have been looked after and protected by Mirning’s elders for generations, says Mirning’s statement.

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


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