SALT LAKE CITY — Utah archaeologists are incensed and a federal agency is pursuing a criminal case involving the brazen, daylight defacement of one of the state’s most prominent rock art panels.
Someone etched their initials and the date next to the prehistoric image known as the “Pregnant Buffalo” on a rock panel in Nine Mile Canyon just minutes after it had been inspected by archaeologist Jerry D. Spangler.
“Each act of vandalism is a selfish disregard of the aesthetic, spiritual and scientific values that constitute our collective past,” said Spangler, executive director of the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance. “These sites are non-renewable resources, and the damage done can never be completely repaired.”
The vandals etched into the dark patina next to prehistoric images the initials “JMN” and the date of “5/25/14.”
Spangler said the vandalism occurred about 12:20 p.m. on May 25 only moments after he’d visited the site and observed no evidence of recent vandalism. Twenty minutes later, two local property owners visited the panel, saw the vandalism and witnessed two people hurrying away.
Ultimately, Spangler and the land owners got a license plate number and other information that has been forwarded to the Bureau of Land Management.
“We’re encouraging the BLM to investigate this matter fully. We can’t let this slide,” he said.
The Pregnant Buffalo site attracts thousands of visitors every year in a canyon dubbed the world’s longest art gallery. Around 10,000 images are believed to date to the Fremont period between 900 and 1250 A.D.
While a few other names and initials have been carved at the Pregnant Buffalo site over the years, the earliest in 1867, none have been added in recent decades until the Memorial Day weekend incident, Spangler said.
Last year, a panel was vandalized at Nine Mile Canyon with the culprits yet to be caught.
Spangler, who has researched Nine Mile Canyon and its archaeological features for more than two decades, believes the last 15 years have brought about a greater public awareness of the importance of cultural and natural resources with an overall decrease in incidents of vandalism.
“Education has been fundamental in protecting archaeological sites, but there are circumstances when law enforcement is a necessary component to protect our past,” Spangler said. “We will be encouraging the BLM to investigate and prosecute this matter to the fullest extent possible under existing laws. To ignore it would be to sanction the desecration of cultural treasures.”
Spangler pointed to this recent rock art defacement, the toppling of a hoodoo at Goblin Valley State Park and the theft of a dinosaur track near Moab as examples of a segment of society that has yet to learn the value of cultural and geologic history.
“It is not acceptable. These are treasures of the past that belong to all of us. A rock art panel is not someone’s private pallet where people can create their own images.”