By Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh
Recently, a National Park Service employee visited a rock art site known as the "Descending Sheep" panel, below the Grand Canyon's Glen Canyon Dam. Scratched into the artwork was the name "Trent." The employee had noticed a guided fishing boat there a little before. A quick-acting ranger found the boat downstream and the guide pointed him to Trenton Ganey of North Carolina. When confronted, Ganey told the ranger he defaced "Descending Sheep" because he thought it would be "cool."
Not cool. Ganey pleaded guilty to one felony violation of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. He will pay $10,000 in restitution.
The last several months have seen an increase in reports of damage to America's most ancient art. In Idaho, two men were charged with spray painting an ancient panel in Hells Gate State Park. In Arizona's Agua Fria National Monument, unknown vandals damaged Native art with white paint and scrawled obscenities. In fact, this recent spate of wreckage represents a historic epidemic. Most rock art sites across the American West have been despoiled by modern graffiti, gang tags, and bullet holes.
While the looting of the Egyptian Museum made front-page news and became part of the national dialogue, only one newspaper even reported on the Ganey case. We have become immune to the everyday destruction of heritage in our own backyard.
But how would Americans react if vandals regularly used Mount Rushmore for target practice? What would the world do if "Trent" was scratched not across "Descending Sheep" but across the "Mona Lisa"?
Only a $10,000 fine? How about a $100,000 fine and a year in jail? Or more. And perhaps a year or two of probation involving community service: helping a tribe preserve its cultural resources.
I suspect people deface rock art for the same reason they commit other attacks on Indians. Which is a subset of the reason they attack women, minorities, and gays. To refresh your memory on what that reason is, see Whites Feel Like a Minority, Pro-Tribal Legislation Spurs Conservative Threats, and Fischer Worships "God" of Racism.
For more on rock art, see Oprah to Visit Aboriginal Rock Art and Rock Art = 3rd-Grade Doodling?
Below: More rock art deserving protection.