Cave paintings: Vandals destroy indigenous Australian artwork dating back 22,000 years - ‘art not recoverable’

The vandalism has been condemned by the South Australian government

Ancient artwork created by indigenous Australians has been destroyed by vandals. The work is in the Koonalda Caves and is said to date back over 20,000 years. The caves are located in the state of South Australia on the Nullabor Plain.

The words ‘Don’t look now, but this is a death cave’ were etched into the rock. This carving has defaced the artwork which was created by the Mirning people. The artwork has previously been subject to damage caused by mining and climate change.

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Archaeologist Keryn Walshe told The Guardian about the importance of the artwork and why it cannot be recovered. They said: “The vandals caused a huge amount of damage. The art is not recoverable. Koonalda is one of our most important Whale Dreaming songline places of art and one of the last of its kind on this planet."

A spokesperson for the South Australian government said the discovery of the vandalism was both “shocking” and “heartbreaking”. They said: “Over recent months, the South Australian government has been consulting Traditional Owners and other stakeholders on developing a comprehensive plan to better protect this important site.

“The existing fencing and general difficulty in accessing the caves deters the vast majority of visitors from trespassing. Live monitoring of the site via closed circuit cameras is being considered to better protect the cave.”

The artwork was created by the Miring People, which is one of the oldest peoples in human history.  According to the People website, the Yinyila Nation of Mirning clans encompasses the ancient coastal seabed of the Nullarbor Plain Ngargangooridri, the spectacular limestone Bunda Cliffs and the pristine waters of the Great Australian Bight. Their stories recall the vast plain below the water that was their land home before the last sea-level rise. This is the place of the great white Dreamtime whale Jeedara and is still the greatest whale nursery and sanctuary on this planet.

Koonalda Cave in South Australia (photo: Google Maps/ Paul Hanley)Koonalda Cave in South Australia (photo: Google Maps/ Paul Hanley)
Koonalda Cave in South Australia (photo: Google Maps/ Paul Hanley)

To find out more about the rich cultural history of the Mirning, visit their website.

Ice age cave art code cracked

Closer to home, a London furniture conservator has developed a method of analysing cave drawings left by European ice age hunters. The markings were considered to be meaningless, however the theory from Ben Bacon has revealed a version of ‘proto-typing’ which academics believe emerged thousands of years ago.

Mr Bacon told the BBC why he wanted to decode the drawings and markings and how he came across the theory. He said: "The meaning of the markings within these drawings has always intrigued me so I set about trying to decode them, using a similar approach that others took to understanding an early form of Greek text.

"Using information and imagery of cave art available via the British Library and on the internet, I amassed as much data as possible and began looking for repeating patterns. I reached out to friends and senior university academics, whose expertise was critical to proving my theory.

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"It was surreal to sit in the British Library and slowly work out what people 20,000 years ago were saying but the hours of hard work were certainly worth it."

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