Rio Tinto apologises for destroying ancient indigenous site in Western Australia

Rio Tinto has apologised to the traditional owners of a 46,000-year old sacred indigenous site that was blown up with dynamite during work to expand its iron ore operation in Australia’s Pilbara region.

The Anglo-Australian mining giant destroyed two ancient caves last week in Juukan Gorge, about 1,075 km North of Perth. The rock shelters contained artifacts of immense cultural and archaeological importance.

Among the ancient artefacts were grinding stones and a tool made from bone, plus 4,000-year-old plaited human hair with genetic links to the present day traditional owners, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) peoples

“We are sorry for the distress we have caused,” said Rio Tinto iron ore chief executive Chris Salisbury in a statement. “Our relationship with the PKKP matters a lot to Rio Tinto, having worked together for many years.

“We will continue to work with the PKKP to learn from what has taken place and strengthen our partnership. As a matter of urgency, we are reviewing the plans of all other sites in the Juukan Gorge area.”

The Western Australian government hopes to pass its new Aboriginal cultural heritage bill this year, although the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the consultation process.