Calling the destruction of 46,000-year-old Aboriginal caves "inexcusable," lawmakers in Western Australia have ordered a mining firm to rebuild caves that are among the country's most significant archaeological sites, the BBC reports. The company, Rio Tinto, detonated explosives in May to access $96 million in iron ore, destroying two ancient rock shelters in the Juukan Gorge that are sacred to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) people. Rio Tinto later apologized, the firm's CEO and other executives resigned, and their bonuses were cut. The inquiry report says that "Rio knew the value of what they were destroying but blew it up anyway," per the Guardian. In a statement Tuesday, Rio Tinto acknowledged the "significant pain" its actions caused.
"The destruction of the Juukan rock shelters was wrong; it should not have happened and it does not reflect the values that Rio Tinto aspires to," the company said. The inquiry report included a host of recommendations, including Rio Tinto negotiating a restitution package with the PKKP people, the company ceasing operations in the Juukan Gorge, and all mining outfits voluntarily pausing operations until new Aboriginal heritage laws are passed. PKKP representatives told the parliamentary inquiry earlier this year that they were "devastated" by the destruction of the caves: "We have started the long road to healing and repairing our relationship with Rio Tinto," said PKKP spokesman Burchell Hayes, "but Rio Tinto now needs to turn its words into actions." (Read more Australia stories.)