After discovering damage to more than 50 petroglyphs at Petroglyph Point in Lava Beds National Monument in Tule Lake, California, security has been stepped up and visitor access to the rock art has been closed off.
“A mindless act of this nature causes damage in seconds that can never be restored, shows disrespect to American Indian tribal members and current monument visitors, and prevents future generations from enjoying a part of American history. These resources belong to us all, and their protection is everyone’s responsibility. Unfortunately, this practice has occurred in the past, and while there is no way to repair the damage done, future destruction can be prevented by promoting respect of all cultural and natural resources, and educating visitors about the importance of the evidence of our collective past,” said Lava Beds National Monument Superintendent Mike Reynolds in a press release.
For the time being, until a more permanent means of protection can be put into place, visitors can no longer view the petroglyphs and the National Park Service has increased patrols in the area.
Reynolds explained to ICTMN that a plan for protecting the 4,000-year-old petroglyphs was already in the works but now it’s even more important that it gets put into place.
Perry Chocktoot, culture and heritage director for the Klamath Tribes, told the Herald and News how his ancestors would climb down the cliffs at Petroglyph Point or float canoes across Tule Lake when the waters were higher, to carve the art.
“Knowledge of the past enriches our people,” Chocktoot said. “We need to educate the general public on the area’s sacredness and the importance of preservation.”
Reynolds said that the thousands of petroglyphs and pictographs are mostly protected by “an unsightly but secure fence.” The damage that was discovered May 17 happened in an area that is not fenced in. “They didn’t crawl over the fence to do the damage,” he said.
“It’s super soft rock, historically Native Americans would carve into the rock because it’s easy to carve into. All you have to do is pick up any rock off the ground and carve into it,” Reynolds explained. “That’s exactly what the vandals did. The same conditions that made it appealing over the last 4,000 years are still appealing today. Either they don’t realize the damage they are doing, or they realize it and don’t care.”
“There is a faction of that community down there that believes it’s their right to go mark stuff up and pick up arrowheads and dig up graves and it comes down to a lack of respect for the indigenous people,” Chocktoot told the Herald and News.
This is why additional security measures, but more importantly, education is going to be at the top of the task force’s to do list. Reynolds said the task force will be consulting with the Klamath Tribes on not only the best way to protect the petroglyphs, but also on the best way to tell the story and educate the public.
“Trying to get the public to understand the importance of the site and the pictographs and petroglyphs and their sacred nature to the tribes and why that should be important to us as Americans… The spirit and the knowledge comes directly from the tribe,” Reynolds said.
No arrests have been made, but Reynolds said the investigation into the vandalism is ongoing. If anyone has information regarding the incident, they can call 530-667-8100, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.