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Utah has been known for its rock art. This drawing is located in Canyonlands National Park. (Image via Wikimedia)

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.”

Petroglyphs at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah (image courtesy Ken Lund/Flickr)

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. 

Newspaper Rock State Historical Monument, Utah (image courtesy Jphilipg/Flickr)

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. 

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Laura C. Mallonee

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...

13 replies on “Ancient Rock Art in Utah Is Being Destroyed by Target Shooters”

  1. How can any legislature in the US support by doing nothing, cultural vandalism, cultural chauvinism on such a disgusting scale.? Protection now or eternal disgrace. That’s the choice.

  2. There is something about white culture almost everywhere, but particularly in the United States, that is willing to do absolutely anything, with no apparent lower limit, to avoid honestly coming to terms with its deficiencies.

    1. There has always been something about white culture that causes white people to kill, oppress, and culturally obliterate non-white peoples.

  3. All I can say is what can you expect from from such a gun culture group of people. True it is their right to bear arms but they seem to think that entitles them to do anything with a gun! There are target ranges but that costs something to use it or belong to a club to use it. Public land, I guess they feel they are entitled to do as they please and some sign asking them not to shoot the petroglyphs means nothing to them because no one is going to tell them (gun touting,disrespectful of signs people) what and what not to do! It is a shame there are such disrespectful people!

  4. The rock art found at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta are protected as cultural gems. You cannot go see them without being on a guided tour. Why aren’t these protected like that as well? A fence isn’t going to protect anything. And wow – I would be terrified to be anywhere near public land in the US if people can legally go around shooting off guns. Help!

    1. For starters, it’s in Canada. In the US the teabaggers throw a hissy fit every time you fill a damned pothole, let alone run a park.

  5. These are the same idiots who insist on riding their motorized toys into Wilderness areas because they are too lazy to walk.

  6. Home of the brave! Land of the free! Hmmmmm they’re digging their own cultural grave! Everything comes back to bite you!!

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