Monday, 4 October 2010

Arizona Cannot Protect Ancient Sites from All Citizens

A hiker in August reported damage to a 1,000-year-old panel of petroglyphs at Keyhole Sink (named after a keyhole-shaped lava flow) in the Kaibab National Forest in northern Arizona. The word "ACE" was written in silver paint over the rock art, necessitating an expensive restoration job. No suspects have been identified, but according to the Arizona Republic ('Ariz. Officials Work To Protect Ancient Art', Sun, October 03, 2010):
what happened is a reminder of the ongoing assault on archaeological sites in Arizona and across the Southwest. [...] Officials say sites around the Southwest are being vandalized from graffiti and looting to littering and garbage-dumping. Sites are defaced with paint, bullet marks, paintball stains and messages scratched into rocks. Professional thieves remove pottery, hack out chunks of ancient art-covered rock and dislodge anything they can carry away. The sites are vulnerable because they're not behind locked doors, and monitoring is intermittent at many of the locations. There aren't enough people to check them frequently, there are simply too many sites, and often, they're hard to reach. [...] More than 130 vandalism reports have been filed by the stewards since October 2009, when a computerized reporting system was put in place. [...] Mike Johnson, deputy preservation officer for the Bureau of Land Management's Arizona office in Phoenix, said urban growth in the West means more people looking to crowd into diminishing open space, putting more pressure on archaeological sites. At the same time, he said technology like GPS helps people find sites, and Internet marketplaces permit thieves to easily market what they've stolen.
The collectors who will buy the items which the thieves carry off from such sites say the problem is caused by the "lack of protection" afforded sites by those responsible for their care. The article states that in Arizona the BLM is supported by "about 800 volunteers who monitor the 3,000 most significant or most affected sites" and that still is not enough. They are thinking of installing cameras and motion detectors to protect sites like Keyhole Sink. It does not say how much that will cost, multiplied by 3000 sites.

Here it seems to me the approach should not be to rely on deterrent, but affect the social context in which graffiti, dumping, vandalism of ancient sites develops. What arrogance and disregard leads to somebody carrying a can of spray paint into a national park and spraying words over ancient rock art? What kind of arrogance lies behind the selfish purchase of artefacts and other objects ripped from such ancient sites without considering what damage might have been done to produce it? The digging of holes into and removing elements of ancient sites for commercial gain is a severe form of cultural vandalism, and those who take no precautions to avoid putting money into the pockets of those that do it are as bad vandals as the diggers themselves. No questions asked collectors who are the beneficiaries of the looting process are themselves guilty of the looting.

Here's a You Tube video of the site... I cannot say that a spray paint can would be at the top of my personal list of things I'd need to take here. How to reach those for whom it would?

Photo: Cultural vandalism in Arizona.

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