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Vandals destroyed 30,000-year-old rock art at a sacred cave in South Australia (SA), prompting condemnations from locals and scholars, as well as criticism against the state government’s lack of protection of the site, the Guardian reported.
Authorities said unknown individuals entered the Koonalda Cave and scrawled graffiti across the heritage-listed site, writing “don’t look now but this is a death cave.”
Archeologists said the artwork was “unique in Australia” and had been registered as a national heritage site because of its rarity. They added that the artwork was “very significant” to the Mirning people, the site’s Aboriginal owners, who have been visiting the cave for millennia.
Because the cave’s surface is very soft, it isn’t possible to remove the graffiti without damaging the rock art.
Officials explained the vandals had accessed the cave by digging under a steel gate and completely destroyed one area of the site. The gate was installed in the 1980s but many observers lamented that it had become “inadequate” over time. They said that many had previously gained access to the cave to scribble their names or dates.
SA Attorney General and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Kyam Maher condemned the vandalism and called for a “severe penalty.”
Even so, scholars and conservationists have criticized his comments, saying that they had informed Maher about the lax security at the site back in June.
Clare Buswell, chair of the Australian Speleological Federation’s Conservation Commission, said that more pressure should be put on the state government to improve security at such sites or more ancient work could be destroyed.