Utah Commits to Combat Archaeological Vandalism!

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Vandalized rock art near Moab

On Friday, January 24 over 80 people from 44 organizations participated in person or on a webinar in Utah Public Archaeology Network’s (UtahPAN’s) inaugural meeting! Everyone brought incredible energy and ideas to the meeting, and there was widespread agreement that the problem is dire, but reversible. This is the year that we end vandalism of archaeological sites, and partners across the public/private spectrum are embracing the challenge. 

Identifying artifacts on a CCC Camp in the Manti-La Sal National Forest

We all agree that there seems to be more and more vandalism to archaeological sites each year. Visitors are seeing more graffiti – like people’s names or drawings – on sites, especially rock art sites. On the trail we see more traffic, and even remote places. With more people out on the landscape it’s only natural that we would see more problems, especially in the backcountry where we don’t have signage. Utah’s rugged beauty draws people in, and social media has lured people to find once secret archaeological sites. UtahPAN wants to encourage archaeological site visitation, but we need to be smart about it if we don’t want to see our heritage vanish. With this in mind, our Network suggests that we tackle the problem of archaeological vandalism in three core areas:

Data

We need to learn more about vandalism, including who is causing it, where it appears, and what forms it takes. Partners agree that we’re dealing with anecdotal evidence, and that we need better information so that we can effectively target our efforts. UtahPAN will work with archaeological consultants to crunch existing data to learn trends and may reinvigorate a statewide site stewardship program to track new problems.

Outreach

Partners felt strongly that outreach is critical to preventing future vandalism. Outreach takes many different forms from K-12 curricula to trail signage, site stewardship to tribal involvement. We need to educate people on the human story behind archaeological sites to instill the respect necessary for ethical behavior. UtahPAN’s partners will pursue myriad small projects to get the word out, while the larger organization may focus on a marketing campaign.

Education and outreach in Dinosaur National Monument

Remediation

Repairing existing damage can help deter future vandalism, and it shows visitors that communities value and care for their heritage. UtahPAN partners are already identifying areas hit by vandalism that would be good candidates for remediation. Also we can do more to protect sites, like creating fences, interpretive signage, and trail registers.

After we spoke as a group about our experiences with vandalism, UtahPAN partners brainstormed ways that their organizations can participate in combating vandalism. Here are just a few of the projects that partners thought we all could tackle in the coming year:

  • Bring educational content to places like REI, where people go to learn outdoor skills
  • Improve clarity about how to report archaeological vandalism
  • Increase the audience receiving messages about archaeological vandalism by providing materials in different languages
  • Invite tribes to provide information and establish that the people who created prehistoric sites did not “vanish”
  • Establish not just site stewards, but site hosts who can interact with visitors at highly trafficked sites
  • Create a punchy social media campaign to spread awareness of archaeological vandalism’s threat

Graffiti on the ruins of the Saltair Resort

UtahPAN will publicize new projects in the coming weeks, and we want your participation! Here are a few ways to get in on the conversation:

Sign up for UtahPAN’s monthly newsletter

Let us know what you think on our Facebook page

Attend our symposium at UPAC’s Winter Meeting Feb 21 – 23

Stay tuned for more information from UtahPAN and our efforts to Combat Vandalism!