Rocky Landscape with a Cave Chapel

30,000-Year-Old Indigenous Art Destroyed by Vandals

In Southern Australia, trespassers forcibly entered the Koonalda Cave, and destroyed irreplaceable sacred images. According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the vandals dug under the gate. They etched the phrase “Don’t look now, but this is a death cave” into the soft limestone walls, destroying the indigenous art beneath.

It’s believed that this may be a planned act of vandalism. The cave is several hours from most populated areas. The site is also dark and complex.

In doing so, they destroyed some of the oldest rock art in Australia, desecrating a site sacred to the Mirning People. The Koonalda Cave is sacred to the Mirning People, where only male elders are permitted to enter. The cave is where they go to connect to their ancestors.

An example of ave art from the Manda Guéli Cave in Chad
David Stanley from Nanaimo, Canada, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Common

The Mirning People have been requesting additional security at the Koonalda cave for some time, as people have been visiting the cave without contacting the tribal elders for permission. Unfortunately, their requests have not been acted on by the Australian government.

As the damage was done in the soft limestone, it is impossible to restore. The indigenous art destroyed cannot be fixed. The vandals have not been caught but could face a $10,000 ($6,700) fine and up to six months in prison.

Unfortunately, indigenous art is being destroyed in other places as well, and not only by humans. Climate change is destroying sacred sites throughout Australia.

Australia is not the only country struggling with preservation. A US man was charged with destroying a Latinow rock carving in South Dakota. In Africa, groups are attempting to protect rock art from not only vandalism but war.

Some groups are treating ancient rock art to last longer, while other groups are focusing on protecting the sites. Other groups are taking the art most at risk and attempting to move it to museums. With any luck, these groups will succeed and the remaining art will not be lost forever.

To learn more about the damage at the Koonalda Cave, you can visit Hyperallergic’s article.

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Jackie Standaert

I'm an office worker by day, a historian by night. At some point, I'll have enough money saved to get my Ph.D. in History, but for now, my B.A. will have to do.

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