While the authorities searched for the culprits, this protected cave and the artwork inside it have now been vandalized with graffiti and devastated the indigenous Mirning community.
“It was discovered earlier this year that the cave had been illegally entered and parts of the sensitive finger grooves were destroyed and the side of the cave was damaged,” a government spokesperson told CNN. Said.
Grooves are grooves drawn on soft limestone cave walls by ice age humans’ fingers.
“The vandalism at Koonalda Cave is shocking and heartbreaking. Koonalda Cave is of great importance to the Mirning People, and its tens of thousands of years of history show some of the earliest evidence of Aboriginal occupation in this part of the country,” the spokesperson said. aforementioned.
“If these vandals can be caught, they must face the full force of the law.”
The spokesperson added that vandals have not been deterred by fences in the caves, so the South Australian state government is now considering installing security cameras and has been consulting with traditional owners “in recent months” on how they can better protect the area.
But Bunna Lawrie, a veteran Mirning elder and guardian of Koonalda, said she hadn’t heard about the vandalism until local media reported it this week.
“We are the traditional guardians of Koonalda and we want this to be respected and consulted with our Mirning elders,” he said.
The incident disappointed the Mirning People, who said that their repeated requests for higher security were not taken into account.
The group said in a statement that it is closed to the public as a sacred place and only a few male elders in the community can enter. Besides the cave’s spiritual significance, the restrictions are also to protect the delicate art, some of which has been etched into the cave floor.
Despite legal protections, the group told Koonalda it still receives requests to be allowed public access.
“We objected to the opening of our sanctuary because it would violate the protocols that have long protected Koonalda. Since 2018, we’ve been asking primarily for support to secure entry and provide appropriate Mirning signage. This has not been supported,” the statement said.
“Instead, damage has occurred in recent years, such as the collapse of the cave entrance following unconsulted and unapproved access work.”
He added that as a site representing the connection with Mirning ancestors and homelands, Koonalda “is more than a precious work of art, it runs deep into our blood and identity.”
For decades, Australian scientists believed that the country’s indigenous people had existed on land for only about 8,000 years.
Koonalda Cave was the first place in Australia to find indigenous rock art that could be dated to 22,000 years ago – upending the scientific community’s understanding of Australian history.
“The discovery caused a sensation and forever changed the then accepted ideas of where, when and how Aboriginal people lived on the Australian continent,” said Greg Hunt, then environment minister at the time Koonalda was designated a National Heritage Site in 2014.
According to the country’s Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water, cave art dating has been evaluated with archaeological remains and fingerprints, and then verified using radiocarbon technology.
Besides finger grooves, the cave also contained a second type of rock art, with lines carved into harder limestone sections using a sharp tool. According to a government site, the walls feature patterns of horizontal and vertical lines cut into a V.
The Mirning statement stated that the cave and its art have been supervised and preserved by the Mirning elders for generations.
“All of our seniors have been devastated, shocked and injured by the recent disrespect to this site,” Lawrie said. Said. “We mourn 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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