Vandals Scratch Names Over 'Priceless' Rock Art

Repaired Big Bend petroglyph will never be the same
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 18, 2022 10:21 AM CST
Vandals Scratch Names Over 'Priceless' Rock Art
The vandalism discovered in the Indian Head area of Big Bend National Park.   (National Park Service)

Some 4,000 to 8,500 years after a Native American artist made an etching in a 30-million-year-old volcanic boulder at what is now Texas' Big Bend National Park, visitors decided to leave their mark, too—directly on top. Four names and the date—Dec. 26, 2021—were carved across the petroglyph in ugly white scratches. Though efforts have been made to repair the damage, much of it is permanent, Tom VandenBerg, Big Bend's chief of interpretation and visitor services, tells Outside. He adds something "priceless" has been lost. It's all the more enraging as this is the 50th case of petroglyph vandalism at the park since 2015. The same thing has been happening at sites across the country.

"Once something is done, you're never going to undo it completely," says Johannes Loubser, a specialist in rock art restoration who last year discovered etches and spray paint atop a set of 3,000-year-old carvings at Track Rock Gap in northern Georgia, per Outside. The problem is "people who are not educated, who don't realize what rock petroglyphs and pictographs are and that they're special to Native Americans, they act inappropriately." That doesn't appear to have been the case in Big Bend, however. VandenBerg tells Outside that there are signs describing the importance of the ancient markings, as well as the penalties for damaging them. They can include a fine of up to $5,000 or up to six months in prison, per the Houston Chronicle.

It's "difficult for those of us that have dedicated our careers to taking care of these places," VandenBerg tells the CBC. "With each instance of vandalism, part of our nation's heritage is lost forever," says Big Bend National Park Superintendent Bob Krumenaker. Unfortunately, a well-meaning visitor who attempted to repair the graffiti with water only did further damage, with chlorine from the tap water reacting with the stone's natural patina, creating a white stain. National Park Service officials had to use distilled water and a soft-bristled brush to loosen the stain and remove the remains of the graffiti as best they could. Rangers are asking for the public's help in finding the culprits, who left the names Isaac, Ariel, Norma, and Adrian. (More vandalism stories.)

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