One of the largest rock art ensembles in the world threatened by petrochemical industries


Petroglyph No. 16.  Significant flaking is visible around and above this petroglyph of fish, which was not evident in the 1970s. Red arrows show flaking of the rock varnish that was not evident in the image from 1974. Note that the upper right corner of the rock is hidden by shadow in the 1974 image.

In northwestern Australia, the Murujuga Peninsula, so named by the indigenous Jaburara people because of its“protruding hip bone”, is home to one of the largest and oldest art galleries in the world. More than a million rock carvings concentrated in an area of ​​36,857 hectares. This narrow strip of land flowing into the Indian Ocean has also been, since the 1960s, an important center of activity for the mining and petrochemical sectors.

While construction work on a new fertilizer plant began at the end of April, and the oil group Woodside Energy is working on a gas megaproject for the exploitation of two huge offshore fields and the extension of two treatment plants. on the peninsula, archaeologists call for better protection of the multi-millennial site, sacred to the aborigines.

“Our research shows that current acid emissions are already damaging the rock surfaces on which the petroglyphs were carved. Building new factories will only accelerate the ongoing damage and rock destruction will happen even faster”, warns Benjamin Smith, professor emeritus of rock art at the University of Western Australia and who published, in November 2022, the study “Monitoring the degradation of rock art. Archival Image Analysis of Murujuga Petroglyphs, Western Australia » .

Millennia of knowledge and stories

For a long time, scientists were mainly concerned about the direct consequences of industrialization on archaeological sites. In Murujuga, construction machinery would have destroyed hundreds of petroglyphs over the decades. For the construction of this new fertilizer factory by Perdaman Chemicals and Fertilizers, a gigantic project worth 3.7 billion euros, the group moved, with the agreement of the authorities, three rock art panels to clear the way before the work begins.

According to the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation (MAC) committee, which represents the interests of traditional owners, the carvings were not damaged, but the episode was ” very difficult “ for the community. Eliza Kloser, local media reporter Ngaarda, who came to take photos on the morning of the operation, April 28, was intercepted twice by the police. Some feared a Juukan Throat 2.0 »in reference to the blasting of the prehistoric caves of Juukan Gorge, a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal sacred site, in May 2020, by the mining group Rio Tinto.

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