The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Kanopolis Lake recently discovered vandalism to an ancient petroglyph and is seeking information from the public.

Vandalism at Ancient Sites, Who Really Cares Anyway?


Sometimes it doesn’t rain, but it pours. This month has seen two vandals, separated by thousands of miles, completely destroying a range of ancient carved animals. But does anybody really care nowadays, with everything else that’s going on?

Mindlessly Detroyed

The first instance is being followed up by a unit of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who are now searching for two people who etched their names over the “ancient bison at a Native American site at Kanopolis Lake, causing irreversible damage to the petroglyphs” according to an article in In the second occurrence, vandals in Chile destroyed a range of “ancient animal carvings” in hunters’ caves.

Petroglyphs are engraved symbols, geometric forms, animals and anthropomorphic concepts where the dark surface layer is carved away from a rock face revealing the lighter rock beneath. Tim Meade, archaeologist for the Corps of Engineers told reporters "It is very sad someone would think to destroy something… considered to have important spiritual meaning to Native Americans representing the works of their ancient ancestors.”

A 150 -year old bison representing the memory of the work of ancestors has been destroyed by the Emily tag. (Image: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District)

A 150 -year old bison representing the memory of the work of ancestors has been destroyed by the Emily tag. (Image: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers , Kansas City District)

And while casual observers and vandals see no significance in these Native American Indian images, maybe because they are “only" 150 years old, the real value in these petroglyphs and their symbolic content, is that they come from minds of people with an oral tradition stemming back over at least 13,000 years, beginning when people first arrived in the Americas. If the Corps are successful and apprehend the perpetrators with solid evidence, they might then be prosecuted under Title 36 Code of Federal Regulations and the Archaeological Resources Protections Act of 1979.

Vandalism at Cuevas de Anzota, Chile. (Image: Felipe Sandoval, Twitter)

Vandalism at Cuevas de Anzota, Chile. (Image: Felipe Sandoval , Twitter)

Irreparable Damage

Meanwhile, in Chili, last month vandals set about damaging ancient pre-Columbian cave paintings at the Cuevas de Anzota, south of the city of Arica, according to a report in According to Spanish newspaper  EL PAÍS, the poster outside the cave warns "Archaeological Site preserved for future study and enhancement" in Spanish. The “Minister of Public Works told reporters that “the graffiti on the art wasn't new, but it hasn't been cleaned as a cautionary measure” because as was explained by University of Tarapaca archaeologist Marcela Sepúlveda, “any intervention to clean the panel will also damage it.”

He said that “there might be a silver lining, and that this recent damage might force the government to increase security at Cuevas de Anzota and other venerable historical sites.

Monumental Disregard in History

Nietzsche spoke of  monumental history and regarded the destruction of a monument as a culture disrespecting history and archaeology. Probably the most famous “artistic” act of vandalism was committed by French painter Gustave Courbet when he attempted to disassemble the Vendôme column during the 1871 Paris Commune, in revolt of the Second Empire of Napoleon III.

The destruction of the Vendome Column, Paris. 1871. (Left, Re-erected column,CC BY-SA 3.0, Right, destroyed Vendome in !*71,Public Domain)

The destruction of the Vendome Column, Paris. 1871. (Left, Re-erected column, CC BY-SA 3.0 , Right, destroyed Vendome in !*71, Public Domain )

 In 1974, Norman Mailer glorified the art of vandalism in an essay entitled "The Faith of Graffiti," which likened tagging in New York City to the work of Giotto and Rauschenberg and New York Authorities, in response, coated subway walls with Teflon paint and they jailed taggers.

Acceptable Behavior?

Not for even a second do I condone vandalism, but I can almost get my head around “why” a highly-talented 19-year-old artist in New York might paint an entire subway car or initial a telephone box. And, I can clearly understand how the psychological motivations of an activist with a socio-political gripe might lead them to topple an iconic or symbolic statue of the opposition. What I will never get my head around, however, is how or why someone could walk several miles to an ancient sacred site and hack it to pieces. That level of understanding is so far beyond me I am completely in the dark.

Turning to psychologists for answers, according to Arnold P. Goldstein of Syracuse University, New York “Vandalism is a serious and growing problem in the United States and beyond” but it is not taken so seriously any longer as “higher and perhaps more dramatic expressions and concomitants of aggression - fights, assaults, gangs, guns, the drug trade -have grown and increasingly commanded public and professional attention and the focus on its less damaging expressions has diminished.”

Therein lies the trouble, I think. When societies are experiencing such violent expressions of dysfunctionality, they can become numb to stories about vandalism at ancient sites. It is the same numbness in the vandal, which is found reflected in so many citizens who are completely detached from their heritage and any concerns of yesterday.

Top image: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Kanopolis Lake recently discovered vandalism to an ancient petroglyph and is seeking information from the public. Source:   U.S. Army Corps of Engineers , Kansas City District.

By Ashley Cowie



Everything I have read points to a reduction in violence in the world. But there does seem to be a rise in self centered behavior, such as what we see in these photos of vandalized antiquities. One problem I'm constantly confronted with as a volunteer at a natural area is the disregard for others and for natural and cultural resources. "It's just me" seems to be the refrain and the thinking. Education and ethical training would seem to be the answer. But nobody seems to want to spend money on training people in the arts and humanities and the ethical motifs contained therein. It seems that moving money upward toward the extremely wealthy and toward corporate entities that have no conscience, no values whatsoever other than profit, is a detriment to society.

It would appear that there are Disrespectful Petty Garbage People all over the World .. People should really try teaching they`er little Shit Maggots some Respect ..Or is that all People are is Parasitic Maggots ?

I would consider such vandals, regardless of who they are, ISISI Operators as ISIS went around destroying ancient sites as well.

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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