Vandals defaced a panel of ancient petroglyphs at Big Bend National Park in Texas (courtesy the National Park Service)

An ancient rock art panel at Big Bend National Park in Texas was “irreparably damaged” by vandals who scratched their names and dates over thousands of years old petroglyphs, park officials said.

According to the National Park Service, the vandalism occurred on December 26, 2021, in the Indian Head area of the park in southwest Texas, close to the US-Mexico border. Photos of the defaced panel show the date of the incident scratched into the rock together with four names: Adrian, Ariel, Isaac, and Norma.

“Staff have already treated the most recent vandalism at Indian Head, but much of the damage is, unfortunately, permanent,” the Park Service said in a statement.

Texas park managers warn of an increase in vandalism and graffiti in the area in recent years, saying they have documented over 50 incidents since 2015. They ask anyone with information about such incidents, or the persons involved, to contact the law enforcement staff of Big Bend National Park.

Damaging national park resources is illegal under federal law and carries a penalty of up to six months in prison or a fine of up to $5,000. Rock art and ancient cultural sites are also protected under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA).

Tom Alex, an archaeologist who worked at the Big Bend National Park for 32 years before retiring in 2014, told the New York Times that the defaced petroglyphs were likely made between 3,000 and 8,000 years ago. He said that the abstract designs of the petroglyphs, which he described as “wavy lines, curvilinear lines, geometric patterns, squiggles,” represented some of the oldest rock art in North America.

Stressing the severity of the problem, the Park Service added that graffiti vandalism is “extremely difficult if not impossible to remove.” It also instructed individuals who encounter vandalized rock art not to attempt to clean it themselves but instead allow trained staff to “mitigate the damage as quickly as possible, using highly specialized techniques.”

“Damaging natural features and rock art destroys the very beauty and history that the American people want to protect in our parks,” said Big Bend National Park Superintendent Bob Krumenaker. “With each instance of vandalism, part of our Nation’s heritage is lost forever.”

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