A mining giant has apologised after damaging another site sacred to Indigenous Australians in Western Australia’s Pilbara region.
Rio Tinto have halted work and confirmed they are working with traditional owners after a blast caused damage to an ancient rock shelter near the iron ore Nammuldi mine in the Hamersley Ranges last month.
The company said monitoring of the site identified a large rock and a scrub tree had fallen from the overhang of the rock shelter following the blast.
“As soon as we identified this, we paused work which was occurring 150 metres away, and notified the traditional owners of the land, the Muntulgura Guruma people,” Rio Tinto said in a statement.
The company added that the initial drone assessment “haven’t found structural damage to the rock shelter or impacts to any cultural materials”.
“We are working closely with the Muntulgura Guruma people to better understand what has happened and will be guided by them on the appropriate next steps.
“We deeply respect the Muntulgura Guruma people and have apologised.”
The incident comes three years after two 46,000-year-old rock shelters at Juukan Gorge were destroyed in a blast to expand the mining company’s Brockman 4 iron ore mine in May 2020.
The mining giant apologised for the destruction, which came after warnings from traditional owners and revelations from 2014 archaeological excavations that there was “new information” surrounding the site.
The incident led to the introduction of controversial new laws designed to strengthen the protections for cultural sites, which the Western Australian government announced it would repeal last month after just 39 days in operation.