January 10, 2010

Rock art = 3rd-grade doodling?

Ancient sketches graffiti or art?

By Lee Benson[T]he announcement this week from the State Capitol of an agreement hammered out after months and years of discussion among numerous public and private agencies, including apparently everyone but the BCS, which protects the rock artwork in Nine Mile Canyon from natural gas developers gave me pause when I saw some photos of the endangered rock artwork.

What's the big deal? I found myself thinking. If any of this gets lost we can put some third graders to work on nearby unmarked rocks.

I am aware that such thinking constitutes blasphemy among lovers of ancient Indian pictographs, so let me quickly apologize to them for not seeing what they are seeing and not appreciating what they are appreciating.

But I am only being honest here. I am one of the worst artists in the world and I could draw sheep on roller skates and men with no necks as well as the ones on those rocks. Maybe better.
Naturally, some commenters took umbrage with this article:Anonymous | 12:40 a.m. Jan. 8, 2010

wow that might be the worst article ive ever read.

its kinda like saying why do we still preserve the pyramids in egypt, we could obviously build better ones now, so whats the big deal.

Anonymous | 7:21 a.m. Jan. 8, 2010

Wow, how short-sighted. "Beautiful" or not, much of the "rock art" in Nine Mile is religously significant to many Native Americans, especially the Hopi who consider it sacred. But who cares what they think and feel, right?

Although by now it shouldn't be, it still surprises me when people from a state who take such pride in their history and religion have absolutely no respect for those of others.

Kat Johnson | 8:21 a.m. Jan. 9, 2010

Shame, shame, shame on the writer of this column, and the editors of this paper, for the publication of this disrespectful and racist article. Yes, of course, we must always have "Freedom of Speech", always, and humor, too, but this crosses the line into a dark no-man's land of bigotry and prejudice. The Deseret News appears to be thumbing its collective nose at Native American religious belief...and Native Americans themselves.

This article will likely make national news, and once again, Utah will be in the limelight...not for any positive reason.

Again, shame, shame, shame on you!

Robert | 10:23 a.m. Jan. 9, 2010

Our history is replete with similar examples of short sighted thnking where the true power, financial gain, always trumps art, history, culture or anything else that stands in its way.

MM | 12:21 p.m. Jan. 9, 2010

Q: How can a person be racist in 700 words or less?
A: Read this article.

I guess you get what you paid for.

Anita | 1:29 p.m. Jan. 9, 2010

You look down on the things that are sacred to the Native Americans and their destruction would mean nothing to you. I think you would feel differently if it were something cherished by your family and culture. Shame on you. These things are precious and should be protected. They are all that is left of their ancestors.

Disappointed | 2:08 p.m. Jan. 9, 2010

I (an American Indian) am very disappointed in your third grade insight, Lee. I thought you had better knowledge, judgment, and insight. People like you have a very superficial view of the Indigenous peoples of this area whom preceded you and your people.

Phillip Gottfredson - Oregon | 2:42 p.m. Jan. 9, 2010

I am not Native American and yet I find your words arrogant, offensive and racist. And ditto to the church owned newspaper for allowing such to be printed.
Comment:  The article didn't include examples of Nine Mile Canyon's rock art, but it's probably similar to the Newspaper Rock petroglyphs at the top of this blog.

The Indians who created the rock art may not have considered it sacred or even artful--but since we'll never know, it's stupid to speculate about it. If today's Indians consider it important, that's enough of a reason to preserve it.

Benson has set up a false dichotomy: The rock art is either great art or worthless graffiti. It's quite possible the truth is somewhere in-between. The rock art is clearly a form of communication and it may include important cultural or historical markers.

If we had a whole library of such markers, it might not be so critical to protect this rock art. But since we have only a tiny fraction of these people's heritage left, it's vital to preserve every bit of it.

And to answer Benson's charge directly: If scrawled graffiti was all we had left of Western civilization after it disappeared, I'd say it would be vital to preserve that too. The same would be true of any messages from a lost or little-known people. Save 'em all.

For more on the subject, see Rock Art Inspires Nevada Artists and Rock Art in the 'Burbs.

Below:  Another example of rock art (not from Nine Mile Canyon).

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