Rio Tinto has launched a review into how it destroyed two sacred Aboriginal sites.

Rio Tinto, with state government approval, recently destroyed two caves at Juukan Gorge, one of which contained evidence of continual human habitation stretching back 46,000 years.

The company initially said it destroyed the caves because of a communication error, apologising for distressing traditional land owners, but not for the destruction itself.

After strong and sustained public criticism, the company now says it will “conduct a board-led review of events at Juukan Gorge … to learn lessons from what happened and to make any necessary improvements to our heritage processes and governance,” according to Rio Tinto chair Simon Thompson.

The review will be conducted by Michael L’Estrange, an independent non-executive director of Rio Tinto, based on input from employees and the local Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people (PKKP).

Rio says the review will complement and inform its cooperation with an Australian federal parliamentary inquiry into the destruction of the caves, which is due to report by September 30.

The WA Government is also reviewing its Aboriginal Heritage Act, which allows companies to destroy sacred sites “where land users conclude that impact to a site is unavoidable,” and allows no right of appeal for traditional owners.

Meanwhile, a former top Rio Tinto advisor says the company is more concerned with “what it can get away with” than any commitments to heritage protection.

Professor Glynn Cochrane, a leading anthropologist, ran Rio Tinto's social performance program for 20 years.

He says the communities and social performance function inside Rio has been abandoned.

He told the ABC that Rio “just has not been prepared to listen”.

Commenting on the destruction of the Juukan Caves, he described it as “an accident waiting to happen and I think it will happen again unless the fundamental structural and personnel problems are addressed”.

“They are the custodians, they're the ones who ought to be setting the direction and pace of change, saying what the company stands for, not what it can get away with.”