Mining giant Rio Tinto destroyed a prehistoric settlement that was occupied by Aboriginal people more than 46,000 years ago on Sunday, while using explosives to expand an iron mine in Australia’s northwestern Pilbara region.

The company has been operating in the area since 2013. One year later, archaeological remains dating from the last ice age were found, including a tool made from kangaroo bones 28,000 years ago and a hair braid, which would have been used as a belt 4,000 years ago, and whose DNA had shown that it had genetic links to the ancestors of the natives still living in the region, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura. “Losing these refuges is a devastating blow,” said Aboriginal committee chairman John Ashburton.

In a statement, echoed by The Sydney Morning Herald, the group said they had tried to negotiate with Rio Tinto to stop the exploitation or at least limit the damage to the caves. “Our people are deeply concerned and saddened, lamenting the loss of connection with our ancestors and our land,” Ashburton said.

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