Ancient rock art outside Vegas damaged by graffiti

By Cristina Silva
Las Vegas, Nevada (AP) December 2010

Authorities are offering a $2,500 reward for information about vandals who spray-painted graffiti over prehistoric rock art at the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Nevada.

The maroon and blue paint covers pictographs drawn by ancient inhabitants and petroglyphs scraped and ground long ago into rocks at the scenic preserve about 17 miles west of the Las Vegas Strip. The federal Bureau of Land Management is working with Las Vegas police to investigate what officials are calling one of the most damaging incidents of vandalism at Red Rock in years. A conviction under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act can result in five years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Restoring the Native American art will likely require meticulous scrubbing and cost up to $10,000 in repairs, said Pat Williams, a spokeswoman for Friends of Red Rock Canyon, a volunteer conservation group.

“We can get them restored but it will be very, very expensive to remove the paint without damaging the pictographs,” Williams said. “They are just one of the most fragile cultural sites we have.”

The drawings could date back to A.D. 1000 and were probably made by the known prehistoric archaeological cultures that lived in the area, such as the Virgin Anasazi or the Paiute.

Researchers are unsure what the abstract pictographs represent. Some of the images include a few smears that were made by fingers dipped in pigment.

Friends of Red Rock Canyon and the Conservation Lands Foundation are offering the reward.

Hikers visiting from Oregon reported the graffiti found less than a half-mile from the main road that twists across Red Rock in early November. The graffiti includes the words “Red Rock 2010” and “Nevada has cronic” sprawled across several rock formations.

Red Rock is vulnerable to graffiti vandals because of its proximity to Las Vegas’ urban neighborhoods, said Hillerie C. Patton, a Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman.

“We get a lot of damage and graffiti vandalism all the time,” she said. “When people are doing crimes like this they are not thinking it through.”

Conservationists said this latest graffiti wave was particularly offensive because it defaced historical writings and drawings that offer clues on how people lived in southern Nevada hundreds of years ago.

“These are historical treasures,” said Elaine Holmes, of the Nevada Rock Art Foundation. “These are outdoor museums and should be treated as such.”