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Analysis: Damage to petroglyphs reveals stark differences in how sites are viewed & valued

In late April, at the site known as Birthing Rock near Moab, Utah, vandals defaced thousand-year-old petroglyphs, scrawling the words “white power” and other obscene graffiti, including an ejaculating penis, across the red sandstone. Only one of the boulder’s four petroglyph panels remained unscathed. The vandalism came just a few weeks after a rock climber bolted climbing routes over petroglyphs near the Sunshine Slabs, north of Utah’s Arches National Park.

The recent acts of vandalism are a reminder of the need for greater protection and more education about public lands, Indigenous archaeologists say. “A lot of people have no clue about contemporary Indigenous peoples and their connection to archaeological resources,” Ashleigh Thompson (Red Lake Ojibwe), a doctoral candidate in archaeology at University of Arizona and an avid rock climber, said. “I think people view these (incidents) as a victimless crime, and they are not.”

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