Ancient artwork has been destroyed by vandals who carved a message into the walls of the national heritage site Koonalda Cave in South Australia.
According to BBC, the ancestors of Australia’s Aboriginal Mirning people created art on the cave’s chalk limestone walls about 30,000 years ago. The designs had survived until vandals recently entered through the cave’s steel gate and carved a message over the artwork.
“Don’t look now,” said the message, “but this is a death cave.”
Representatives of the Mirning people said the art could not be recovered or repaired.
“It’s abuse to our country, and it’s abuse to our history,” Senior Mirning elder Uncle Bunna Lawrie told the BBC. “What’s gone is gone, and we’re never going to get it back.”
Lawrie said the art’s destruction is an example of the “constant disrespect” the Mirning people have experienced.
An investigation has been launched into the incident, according to the outlet.
South Australia Attorney-General and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Kyam Maher told Australia’s ABC Radio that the vandalism at the site was “frankly shocking.”
“These caves are some of the earliest evidence of Aboriginal occupation of that part of the country,” he said.
Archaeologist Keryn Walshe also told The Guardian that because of the nature of the wall’s surface, the art could not be saved.
“The vandals caused a huge amount of damage. The art is not recoverable,” Walshe explained. “The surface of the cave is very soft.”
“It is not possible to remove the graffiti without destroying the art underneath,” she added. “It’s a massive, tragic loss to have it defaced to this degree.”
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Mirning elders said they contacted government officials about what they felt was poor security at the site earlier this year, per BBC.
The outlet said anyone found to have damaged an Aboriginal site or object could face a fine equal to $6,700 or up to six months in prison.