How did you spend your Memorial Day weekend? Someone spent theirs defacing rock art dubbed “Pregnant Buffalo” at Nine Mile Canyon in Utah.
The suspect carved the initials “JMN” and the date “5/25/14” into the dark patina next to the buffalo carving that is more than 1,000 years old. Worse still, the vandalism happened just minutes after archaeologist Jerry D. Spangler inspected the site for vandalism and saw none, reported Deseret News.
“Each act of vandalism is a selfish disregard of the aesthetic, spiritual and scientific values that constitute our collective past,” Spangler, executive director of the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance, told Deseret News. “These sites are non-renewable resources, and the damage done can never be completely repaired.”
Spangler also said the damage happened at about 12:20 p.m. on May 25. About 20 minutes after that two local property owners visited the site and saw two people scurrying away.
According to The Salt Lake Tribune, federal officials from the Bureau of Land Management are in contact with two suspects but would not provide any more details.
The canyon where the damage occurred is actually 40 miles long, and has been dubbed the world’s longest art gallery. Some 10,000 images are believed to date between 900 and 1250 A.D. in the canyon.
Even though the BLM has strict rules for visiting sites like this, it doesn’t stop these vandals. “Leave Native American rock art, ruins, and artifacts untouched for the future,” reads the BLM website. “The oil from a single handprint can chemically affect rock art. Climbing on ruin walls can destroy, in a moment, a structure that has survived for a thousand years. Removing or even moving artifacts destroys the scientific value of sites. Chalking or wetting rock art is prohibited.”
Even the rules may be harder to enforce though. Easier access is making the sites more difficult to protect.
“I suspect the situation will get worse because part of what protected it was its remoteness. What used to be a two-hour drive on a rough road is now a 40-minute drive you can do in the family Buick,” Dennis Willis, a former BLM staffer and board member of the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition, told The Salt Lake Tribune.
Spangler told Deseret News that vandalism incidents like the one in Nine Mile Canyon have decreased over the last 15 years and believes public awareness is the reason.
“Education has been fundamental in protecting archaeological sites, but there are circumstances when law enforcement is a necessary component to protect our past,” Spangler said. “We will be encouraging the BLM to investigate and prosecute this matter to the fullest extent possible under existing laws. To ignore it would be to sanction the desecration of cultural treasures.”
He also mentioned other recent events like at Goblin Valley when Boy Scout leaders toppled a hoodoo and posted the video to Facebook.
“It is not acceptable. These are treasures of the past that belong to all of us,” Spangler told Deseret News. “A rock art panel is not someone’s private pallet where people can create their own images.”