ST. GEORGE — A petroglyph was vandalized in Gunlock State Park in May that was dated to be about 200 years old according to Elizabeth Hora, the Public Archaeologist for the State Historic Preservation Office.
The image was of a person riding what looks like a horse or mule.
The rock was located near the main entrance to Gunlock State Park, by the water, where it was dug out of the ground and pushed into the reservoir.
Hora estimated the rock image is probably not much older than 200 years old, saying there are churches in the country that are older than the petroglyph. She emphasized that people need to think of the images more as a church then a recreation site.
“When they get vandalized, it’s like seeing a church vandalized, it’s like seeing a graveyard vandalized,” Hora said. “It’s maybe not something that we as westerners often think about, but that’s how the people who left these images feel about them and we need to be respectful of that.”
In Southern Utah, there are a number of state parks with many historical sites, and Hora offered up some advice on how to tread lightly through the historical sites.
She suggested to take only pictures and leave only footprints. For rock art, it is suggested that you do not touch the art because there are bacteria and oils on hands that can impact the rock itself. It is best to let these rocks weather in place in a natural way.
The SHPO urges people to explore historic sites and be exposed to history, but it is imperative that visitors tread lightly, pick up garbage and follow the rules that you would at any sacred site.
“This rock imagery has looked the same for a couple hundred years probably,” Hora said. “When someone sat down to make this image, you can really cast yourself back in time and into what that person might have been thinking or feeling. You can really connect with not just the landscape but connect with the history of it in such a beautiful and unique way.”
It is hard to relate the traffic in state parks to a possible increase in vandalism at historical sites, but Hora said correlation is not causation. While this may be the case, the higher visitation does give the SHPO something to look at.
“It starts to ask a question for us,” Hora said. “We have seen more visitation across the state, which is great. We do want people to get out and enjoy Utah and enjoy our vibrant history, but as we get more people going out, we get more people who don’t know and who are innocently damaging things. Then we get instances like this where I’d be surprised if someone didn’t know there was rock imagery on this rock before they pushed it into the lake.”
Once these historical sites are damaged, that piece of history is gone forever. There are also members of the community that are attached to these pieces of history and historical sites. This is where Jen Beard comes into the picture.
Beard frequents a fishing spot near the entrance gates to Gunlock State Park, and this petroglyph in particular was one of her favorites. She said she doesn’t believe locals would have done this vandalism since most of them respect the art.
“I ventured out to Gunlock today for driftwood and discovered that our favorite petroglyph in the area was vandalized,” Beard said in a Facebook post. “My heart sank. Horrible people actually dug and pushed it into the water, and now it’s submerged.”
Hora was also complimentary of the local community around archaeology. She said local archaeological societies and programs are overwhelmed with demand for stewards, and it is a problem that other parts of the state are very envious of. The community around local archaeology in Southern Utah is something not seen in other parts of the state.
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