Rock art is one of the most fragile cultural treasures in the United States. Located out in the open, ancient drawings are continually threatened by acid rain, fungus, and … people shooting paint cans for fun. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, rock art in Utah County is being riddled with bullet holes and slopped with paint by careless visitors who also leave behind torn-up cans and broken bottles.
It’s not clear how many rock art sites have been damaged, but the two-mile stretch along the eastern slopes of Lake Mountain contains at least 300 places where 1,800-year-old drawings of snakes, hunters, and sheep from the Fremont culture abound. “If you take paint off, the patina comes off and the rock art is gone,” Matt Sheehan, an archaeologist with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), told the newspaper. “It’s pretty irritating.”
While shooting on public land is legal, Utah County law prohibits firing toward natural features. The Archaeological Resource Protection Act of 1976 also protects the petroglyphs and if caught, the perpetrators could face fines and even jail time. It’s unlikely that would happen, though, as up to 50,000 people shoot in the area every year.
Utah’s Petroglyphs have been having a bad decade. In 2014, vandals spray painted human figures on rocks in the area and shot them to pieces. The same year, a man etched his initials and date into the dark patina of a prehistoric image called Pregnant Buffalo in Nine Mile Canyon. And back in 2006, Herald Extra reported that looters were carting away smaller pieces of rock containing the petroglyphs.
BLM hopes to preserve what rock art remains by reigning in gun enthusiasts in the area. It’s putting together a plan to manage target shooting and has also proposed giving 160 acres of land to the county to be used specifically for that purpose. BLM’s Bekee Hotze told the newspaper that they have to resort to such methods because people didn’t listen when they asked more nicely. “We tried to educate the public with signs, but the signs are shot up,” she said.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.