Vandals deface rock art panel in 9 Mile Canyon
One of Utah's most famous rock art panels, the Pregnant Buffalo site in Nine Mile Canyon, was vandalized over the Memorial Day weekend by an individual who etched into the dark patina next to prehistoric images the initials "JMN" and the date of "5/25/14."
The vandalism occurred at 12:20 p.m. on May 25, only moments after Jerry D. Spangler, Executive Director of the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance (CPAA), had visited the site and had observed no evidence of recent vandalism. Twenty minutes later, two local property owners visited the site, found the vandalism and observed individuals hurrying away from the area.
Through the combined efforts of CPAA and the land owners, investigators were able to obtain a license plate number and other descriptive information concerning the vehicle and its occupants.
According to a release from Spangler, the information has been forwarded to the Bureau of Land Management for a criminal investigation under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.
"Each act of vandalism is a selfish disregard of the aesthetic, spiritual and scientific values that constitute our collective past," Spangler said in the release. "These sites are non-renewable resources, and the damage done can never be completely repaired."
The Pregnant Buffalo site attracts thousands of visitors every year who marvel at the depiction of a large bison with what appears to be a bison fetus on the interior of the body cavity, said Spangler. The site also features numerous other rock art images, some pecked and some painted, that are believed to date to the Fremont period between A.D. 900 and 1250.
A few other names and initials have been carved at the site over the years, the earliest in 1867, but none have been added in recent decades until Sunday's incident.
Spangler believes that an improved ethic among visitors to archaeological sites and greater public awareness of the importance of these sites has led to fewer incidents of vandalism and graffiti over the past 10 to 15 years. But Sunday's event illustrates that a few thoughtless individuals will continue to damage archaeological sites regardless of public attitudes that value these sites as American treasures.
"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. Castle Valley Archaeological Society (CVAS) President Craig Royce reported being greatly disturbed by the incident as he has spent years of his life strolling through Southeastern Utah's hotbeds of archaeological research.
As Royce is currently responsible for the current exploration of several possible sites in Southeastern Utah, the vandalism poses a threat to the things he holds dear.
"Obviously, with the paving of the Nine Mile Canyon Road, this sacred archaeological monument is now accessible to the masses, as it should be," said Royce. "However this example of vandalism, which has drawn national attention, makes accessibility to these world class sites perhaps too available to those who do no understand their importance or rarity."
Recently, CVAS hosted a presentation by Nine Mile Coalition Founder and Internationally respected preservationist Dr. Pam Miller, of USU Eastern. Her statements centered on the current programmatic agreement between industrial interests, the Department of the Interior and environmental organizations.
According to Royce, this agreement, includes a site stewardship program and interpretive signs and materials which will help the public understand the sanctity and importance of these irreplaceable sites, h opefully discouraging future vandalism of this nature.