Australia’s Juukan Gorge yields up rare Tasmanian Devil tooth

By Melanie Burton

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Archaeologists surveying the Juukan Gorge rock shelter in Western Australia that was destroyed by Rio Tinto in 2020 have unearthed major finds including the tooth of a Tasmanian Devil that has not been recorded on the mainland in 3,000 years.

The Tasmanian Devil is one of the world’s largest meat-eating marsupials that is an apex predator on the country’s southern island. It died out on the mainland around 3,500 years ago.

The work, undertaken as part of a remediation agreement between the miner and the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) peoples, is shedding fresh light on the history of human habitation through the last Ice Age, for at least 46,000 years, the PKKP Aboriginal Corporation said in a statement on Tuesday.

The results add to finds from excavations in 2008 and 2014 that included a length of braided human hair that was dated to around 5,000 years ago, and showed a genetic link to Aboriginal people living in the Pilbara in the present.

Australia's Juukan Gorge yields up rare Tasmanian Devil tooth
Tasmanian Devils fight in their enclosure before the first shipment of healthy and genetically diverse devils to the island state of Tasmania are sent from the Devil Ark sanctuary in Barrington Tops on Australia’s mainland, November 17, 2015. REUTERS/Jason Reed

“The fact we have a collection of these items all from one small part of the planned excavation demonstrates what the PKK people have been saying all along – that this is a very special and important place,” said excavation director Michael Slack of Scarp Archaeology.

The destruction of the rock shelters at Juukan Gorge four years ago prompted a global outcry, the departure of Rio’s top executives and an overhaul of Western Australia’s heritage protection laws.