Fortescue survey discovers 41,000 year old heritage site

PERTH, Western Australia: The discovery of a rock shelter near Fortescue Metals Group’s Christmas Creek mine contains evidence of the oldest known Aboriginal occupation in the Pilbara. Using carbon dating analysis, archaeologists were able to ascertain that charcoal pieces excavated from the rock shelter, as part of Fortescue’s heritage program, are at least 41,000 years old.

Fortescue has been working closely with the traditional owners, the Nyiyaparli People and their legal representative Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation, and heritage service providers Archae-aus to identify and protect significant heritage sites in the region since 2006.

Fortescue CEO Nev Power said that the results were remarkable and demonstrated just how long Aboriginal people have occupied Australia. “This is an extremely significant discovery that will be protected in line with Fortescue’s commitment to heritage management,” Mr Power said.

“I’m extremely pleased that we have been able to support the Nyiyaparli people, the traditional owners of the area, to identify, investigate and record this internationally significant archaeological finding. The Fortescue team is also committed to further supporting and providing funding for cultural research programs which will enable the Nyiyaparli people to discover and document even more previously unidentified culturally significant findings.”

Nyiyaparli elder and Heritage Sub-Committee member David Stock said the Nyiyaparli people were proud that this evidence of their ancestors has been found and are happy it will be protected. “This kind of work shows Australians that our heritage is very important and that it can be protected.”

Fortescue has undertaken this heritage research in partnership with Archae-aus and the Nyiyaparli people. A further partnership has also been established with Archae-aus for a comprehensive cultural mapping and research program in Nyiyaparli country and their Managing Director Fiona Hook said that over the next 12 to 18 months, the cultural research program will add substantially to the understanding of the past use of the Chichester landscape. Similar programs with other Pilbara traditional owners are also in progress at other Fortescue sites.

“The Nyiyaparli cultural research program, in which Fortescue has invested $340,000 to date, will focus on community heritage projects, outreach information development, additional excavation and assessment of the archaeology adjacent to the Fortescue Marsh,” Ms Hook said. 

Archae-aus has surveyed more than 430 square kilometres and identified and recorded more than 1,800 sites, including 45 rock shelters since partnering with Fortescue in 2006.

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Yvonne Ball
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