Mining giant Rio Tinto has finally said “sorry” after it blew up a 47,000-year-old Aboriginal cultural site in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.
The detonation of Juukan Gorge took place last Sunday, destroying the only inland site in Australia to show evidence of continual human occupation through the last Ice Age.
“We pay our respects to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura People (PKKP), and we are sorry for the distress we have caused,” Rio Tinto’s iron ore chief executive Chris Salisbury said.
“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.”
He added that the company is currently reviewing all its plans in the Juukan Gorge area, but made no mention of any compensation.
At the time, Puutu Kunti Kurruma traditional owner Burchell Hayes told ABC News the destruction was “terrible”.
“It saddens us that something that we have got a deep connection to has been destroyed,” he said.
“From generation to generation stories have been passed down to us around that occupation.”
Hayes later rejected Rio Tinto’s claims that it didn’t know about the site. He told WA Today the PKKP had informed Rio Tinto of the cave shelters “on numerous occasions since 2013,” most recently last October.
The traditional owners only became aware of the planned detonation by default when they applied to use the area for NAIDOC Week events.
By that time, they were told explosives had already been placed and that it would be impossible to remove them.
The incident also made international headlines.
Peter Stone, UNESCO’s chair in cultural property protection and peace, said the loss was among the worst in recent memory.
He compared Rio Tinto’s actions to when the Taliban blew up the the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, or when ISIS decimated the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria.