Two men from Elko, Nevada, were convicted and sentenced for vandalizing prehistoric rock art. (courtesy Bureau of Land Management)

Two residents from Elko, Nevada, have been sentenced to prison for spraying graffiti on sacred rocks depicting ancient petroglyphs at White River Narrows in Lincoln County.

Jonathan Pavon and Daniel Plata, both 28 years old, were sentenced this Friday, November 4, three years after they tagged their aliases “Cluer” and “Velor” in bold letters at several sites at White River Narrows in 2019. Perhaps most glaring was a large, 20-foot-long graffiti mark that appeared on a rock face with petroglyphs. At the time, one of the convicted men posed in front of his work for a photograph.

“No restitution or repair can undo the damage done by those who would vandalize such a sacred and historical site as White River Narrows, but this ruling demonstrates that such crimes will not be met with a slap on the wrist,” US Attorney Jason M. Frierson for the District of Nevada said in a statement. “Our Office will continue to work to ensure that anyone who desecrates sacred tribal lands and artifacts are held accountable.”

Pavon will serve six months and a day for a misdemeanor and a felony violation of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, and Plata will serve four months followed by eight months of home confinement for a misdemeanor.

Detail of a petroglyph at White River Narrows (via Wikimedia Common)

The White River Narrows region has been inhabited for millennia until Euro-American settlement by hunter-gatherers who preserved and expressed their cultural knowledge through rock art. Archaeologists have come up with several explanations for why people may have made this art, including recording myths, harnessing supernatural powers, practicing artistic expression, and ensuring bountiful hunts and harvests.

White River Narrows, located in eastern Nevada, is home to abundant prehistoric rock art, and the archaeological district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Rock art at the site, made anywhere between 4,000 years ago and the 19th century, features abstract geometric designs with circular, rectangular, wavy, and spiral patterns, alongside figurative designs of humans and animal species. According to the Bureau of Land Management, the petroglyphs continue to hold special significance for Native American people in the region.

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Jasmine Liu

Jasmine Liu is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she studied anthropology and mathematics at Stanford University.

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