Saturday, September 17, 2011


Orca petroglyph, Petroglyph Beach, Wrangell,
Alaska. Photo Peter Faris, 2001.

One form of vandalism of rock art that has many different facets that need to be considered is theft. First, many museums have examples of rock art in their collections that have been moved to the facility from its natural environment. This may have been done for many reasons. Often the rock has been moved to protect it from erosion or from theft or other vandalism. Other examples of rock art in museum collections were acquired before our modern sensibility to the feelings of indigenous peoples and our current attitude that these images belong where they were created. Many were collected just like any other artifact back in the 1800s. While we tend to overlook these heritage examples, I am afraid it still comes up once in a while. At least we now have considerably more sensibility to such occurrences.

More commonly are stories about people who have taken rocks with petroglyphs on them for their own personal reasons. If taken from public land this is theft and a federal crime.

One example I personally ran into in 2001 while on an Alaska cruise was the rock with the famous Orca (Killer Whale) petroglyph on Petroglyph Beach at Wrangell, Alaska. My wife and I searched the boulders for quite some time and could not find the image anywhere. We finally had to go to lunch but, after lunch, while she stayed on the ship I went back to search some more. Again I was unsuccessful and was actually turning to leave when I noticed that one of the houses with back yards adjoining the beach had a fire pit in the yard surrounded by boulders that matched the ones on the beach.

I went over to the fire ring (yes, I was trespassing) and found that one of the boulders in the ring had exactly the Orca petroglyph I had been searching for on it. In other words that home owner had stolen it. They probably did not think of it as theft, after all they live there. They may have thought of it as protecting the art. The fact is, however, they took the petroglyph rock away from its location on the public beach and placed it on their own private property. Maybe it is better protected now!

1 comment:

  1. Oh by the way there is no fire ring in the yard this rock is just inside the edge of the yard by it's self where it's been for more then 80 years.
    Thank You,
    Mark Maynard