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What next for the Juukan Gorge caves?
Wednesday 09 December 2020

An article on bbc.co.uk - Rio Tinto ordered to rebuild ancient Aboriginal caves - reports that mining giant Rio Tinto must rebuild a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal cave system it blew up in May according to an Australian parliamentary inquiry.

Rio Tinto ancient Aboriginal caves mining Australia Juukan Gorge caves Pilbara human habitation Ice Age
Juukan Gorge (left) sits about 60km north-west of the remote Pilbara mining town of Tom Price. Image: Puutu Kunti Kurrama And Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation. Rio Tinto was given permission to blast Juukan Gorge 1 and 2 (right) under Section 18 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act. Image: Puutu Kunti Kurrama And Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation.

The Juukan Gorge caves in Western Australia were recently destroyed as part of an iron ore exploration project. In a report released on Wednesday, the inquiry blasted Rio Tinto's "inexcusable" act, and said they should compensate the traditional owners. Rio Tinto repeated its apology and pledged to change its practices. Earlier this year several senior figures at the company, including Chief Executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques, resigned over the incident, following a backlash from shareholders and the public.

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Before their destruction, the Juukan Gorge caves in Pilbara had shown evidence of continuous human habitation since the last Ice Age. They were seen as one of Australia's most significant archaeological research sites. The immediate area also had more than eight million tonnes of high-grade iron ore, with an estimated value of £75m.

Following an outcry over their destruction Rio Tinto held an inquiry, after which it cut bonuses for directors and began attempts at repairing relations with Aboriginal communities. A parliamentary inquiry was also established to investigate Rio Tinto's behaviour and assess the damage caused to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) people - the traditional owners of the land where the caves were based.

In its report - titled 'Never Again' - the inquiry concluded Rio Tinto "knew the value of what they were destroying but blew it up anyway". It made seven recommendations, including a moratorium on all mining in the local area, and changes to heritage protection laws. The PKKP Aboriginal Corporation has welcomed the verdict and said it hopes it will "prompt a fundamental reset of the sector". In a statement, Rio Tinto said it was "working very hard to progress a remedy" with the PKKP, and the caves' destruction "does not reflect the values that aspire to".

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