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9 Jun 2020

Australia: Fortescue Metals Group mine expansions threatens to destroy Aboriginal heritage sites representing 60,000 years of history

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“'Default setting stuck on destroy': FMG's plan to blast 60,000-year-old site”, 09 June 2020

Fortescue Metals Group's planned … mine expansion … has a footprint covering more than 70 heritage sites … the 60,000-year-old rock shelter among them.

The Eastern Guruma gained permission to excavate and investigate to demonstrate the sites' cultural value, said archaeologist Kathryn Przywolnik…

But before this work could commence, she said, FMG sought a Section 18 consent from Mr Wyatt [Aboriginal Affairs Minister] to destroy the first batch of sites.

… [T]esting … showed the first two rock shelters’ use and occupation by humans dated back 47,800 years ago in one, and approximately 60,000 years in the second.

A third site contained rock engravings … that traditional owners described as “sacred texts”, because figures representing the major Dreaming narratives in the area were all contained within the same site.

There were only a handful of sites of comparable significance in Australia, Dr Przywolnik said.

The archaeologists and the Eastern Guruma people both made submissions to the Aboriginal Cultural Materials Committee which will advise the Minister on his decision.

They asked the Minister to protect 30 of the sites … until further excavation and sampling could be done.

Fortescue chief executive Elizabeth Gaines said the company worked closely with traditional owners ...  “... on a cultural heritage ‘avoidance’ basis”.