ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) — Australian authorities say vandals have destroyed rock art believed to be some 30,000 years old.
According to Kyam Mahar, South Australia’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister, the vandals seemed to have removed parts from a barbed-wire fence at Koonalda Cave. Then they used their fingers and drew over the Indigenous artwork.
“This is, quite frankly, shocking. These caves are some of the earliest evidence of Aboriginal occupation of that part of the country,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Wednesday.
Indigenous Mirning people living on the Nullarbor plain consider the art sacred.
Maher, also the attorney-general of the state, stated that anyone found guilty could be subject to criminal prosecution. For violating state Aboriginal heritage protection laws, those convicted could face six months imprisonment or a $10,000 penalty.
Maher stated that authorities are committed to increasing the penalties, which have been in place since 1988. They also consider other protections for the site’s national heritage-listed status, such as cameras.
“This isn’t some sort of accidental disturbance,” he said. “This is someone who has deliberately got through fencing, barbed wire and gone in and destroyed this. This is the worst kind of vandalism that I can think of.”
Clem Lawrie, an older Mirning man, told the Adelaide Advertiser newspaper that he was shocked by the destruction of the site and that repeated requests to state officials for better protection had been ignored.
Koonalda Cave’s national heritage listing describes the site as containing well-preserved finger markings and unique archaeological deposits.
“Koonalda Cave is of outstanding heritage value to the nation for its role in transforming our contemporary understanding of the extraordinary age of Aboriginal art, archaeology and occupation in Australia,” the listing states.
“The place is of great importance for its contribution to the history of Aboriginal occupation and is of particular significance for the Mirning people.”