Australian authorities say vandals have destroyed rock art believed to be some 30,000 years old.
The vandals appeared to have removed parts of a barbed wire fence at Koonalda Cave and wriggled underneath it before using their fingers to draw on top of the Indigenous artwork, said Kyam Maher, the Aboriginal Affairs Minister of South Australia state.
“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.
The art is considered sacred to the Indigenous Mirning people who live on the Nullarbor Plain.
Maher, who is also the state’s attorney general, said anybody found responsible could face criminal prosecution. Those convicted of breaching the state’s Aboriginal heritage protection laws face up to six months in prison or a $10,000 fine.
Maher said authorities were committed to increasing those penalties, which have remained in place since 1988, and were considering other protections that could be put in place at the national heritage site, including 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.”
Mirning elder Clem Lawrie told the Adelaide Advertiser that he was horrified by the destruction and that repeated requests to the state government for better protection of the site had failed.
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.”