Damage discovered in Alberta last week
San Francisco, CA -- (SBWIRE) -- 10/02/2012 -- The damage is as significant as the destruction of Gargantuan Buddhist statues in Afghanistan, say historians.
Cultural vandals armed with a rock drill, acid, and a power washer defaced ancient aboriginal pictograms and petroglyphs on an Albertan rock formation. The destruction, which happened on the Glenwood Erratic near Pincher Creek in southern Alberta, was discovered last week. The incident occurred as a historian planned to photograph and test the markings.
“The site is part of the earliest heritage of Canada,” said Michael Dawe, Curator of History at Red Deer Museum. “It looks like an ancient ceremonial/religious site at Glenwood, Alta., was deliberately destroyed. If true, this is a shocking and appalling incident.”
The etchings faced the sky on top of the stone. They included evidence of early syllabic writing, according to Stanley Knowlton, head of interpretive services at Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, a Unesco World Heritage Site.
“It is almost like someone wants to block this kind of research,” said Knowlton, who discovered the destruction.The attack is a mystery, he said. “Why? Well, that’s the big question. If you find out why, you might be able to find out who.”
Knowlton said he wonders if someone was trying to destroy evidence that the Blackfoot First Nations had a written language prior to the arrival of Europeans.
Last week’s vandalism drew outrage from Canada’s archaeologists and historians. “As in the case of the deliberate destruction of early Buddhist carvings in Afghanistan and saints tombs in Timbuktu, any attempt to deliberately ‘erase’ an irreplaceable part of Canada’s ancient cultural and/or religious heritage is outrageous and inexcusable,” said Dawe. “If this has happened in Canada, it should be denounced and those responsible should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Knowlton, who is a member of the Piikani First Nation as well as a historian, has been visiting the Glenwood Erratic for more than 10 years. “This group of rocks are very revered by the native peoples,” he said, adding that he had paused his examination of the sacred ceremonial site out of cultural respect. The discovery of red ochre suggests the rock was a sacred site dating as far back as several thousand years, he said.
He had planned to take samples of the ochre paint on the rock to determine the symbols’ age. He took the drying up of lichen that covered many of the symbols as a sign it was time to examine the site more thoroughly. “When the lichen started to come off, that was the signal that we were allowed in,” he said, noting he had planned to conduct his survey in the fall.
When he arrived at the site the morning of Sept. 9, Knowlton noticed tire tracks leading toward the rock, as well as signs of activity at the stone’s base. He climbed a ladder to take a look at the symbols on top of the rock. “To my absolute horror, I could see what kind of damage had been done. I just couldn’t believe it.”
The vandals had used a power washer to remove the lichen. They sprayed acid on the painted images and then used a hammer drill to obliterate the carvings themselves, he said. “It seems a deliberate effort,” said Knowlton, adding that the destruction would have required several people using a power generator, a pressure water with a 100-litre tank, a drill and drill bits, access to acid or a similar industrial-strength chemical, ladders, lights, and a heavy truck.
“This isn’t a theft or simple vandalism,” he said.
This was the latest example of archaeological destruction to strike in Canada recently. Vandals blew up another Alberta site, and filled in another site containing aboriginal pictograms and petroglyphs.
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