There’s a deep, spiritual connection between the Native American peoples and the canyons and plains of North America. It’s a relationship that goes back to pre-Columbian times. In fact, it probably goes back a lot further than any archaeologist or historian realises. For many years we were all taught that the Clovis People were the first to call North America home, some 13,000 years ago. Within the past ten years, new evidence obtained using the latest technology suggests that isn’t true. The Clovis People weren’t the first. In fact, we have no idea how long there have been people living in North America at all. 

While we don’t know the specifics, we do know that our ancient ancestors spent a lot of time in the canyons. It’s almost become a stereotype. Take a look at an online slots website, perhaps Rose Slots IE as an example, and you'll see what we mean. There, an online slots game with a Native American theme called "Shaman Spirit" turned out to be such an enormous hit that its creators recently followed it up with a sequel. "Wolf Gold" is another online slots creation that takes Native American themes and turns them into a hook for gamblers - an award-winning hook, in that particular case. With such a strong connection existing that it's even reflected on online slots websites, it would be nice to believe that people might afford a little respect to the ancient Native American works of art you might find in the canyons. Sadly, that isn't the case. 

Until 2021, there was a collection of very beautiful, very old Native American rock carvings in Georgia. They’re not there anymore. In April 2021, researchers noticed that the petroglyphs had been attacked, painted over, and scratched off by vandals. They’re not exactly sure when the attack happened, but they believe it took place several months ago. Cherokee and Creek tribes created these stunning, symbolic works of art more than one thousand years ago, but now they've been lost forever. Although conversations about attempting to repair the petroglyphs are ongoing, the general consensus is that they're beyond repair. Not only does this betray a lack of respect on the part of the people who carried out this attack, but it also suggests a lack of respect from the people who are supposed to look after the petroglyphs. The news would be upsetting no matter when the attack happened, but the fact that it took several months for anyone even to notice it had taken place somehow makes it worse. 

The importance of the Georgia petroglyphs, which you could find all over the Track Rock Gap among the Chattahoochee-Oconee forests, cannot be overstated. They were thought of as being among the most significant examples of ancient Native American rock art in the entire country. Now they've been lost forever. The attack doesn't look to have been the work of bored teenagers. Instead, the artwork was targeted specifically and deliberately. Five boulders covered in petroglyphs have been scratched so badly that none of the original inscriptions are still visible. In a further two cases, the boulders have been painted over with bright colours. Understandably appalled, the Cherokee Tribal Heritage Preservation Office has issued a statement on behalf of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. In it, they recognised the sites as being important to the heritage of the region and its people and questioned whether the act was one of ignorance or malice. Based on the severity of the attack, it appears to have been the latter. 

Track Rock Gap is supposed to be federally safeguarded. The local Forest Service notes that there are - or were - at least one hundred petroglyphs in the area depicting various shapes and scenes, ranging from the everyday to the abstract. They were once thought to have been relics of the Maya, but it's since been proven that the artists responsible for the work were ancestors of the Cherokee and Muscogee Creek tribes. An extensive archaeological project in 2012, which included a large-scale excavation of the area, proved that there had never been a Maya settlement in the region and ended the debate permanently. That made this an increasingly important place for the Nation - one that has now been tarnished. 

As of the time of writing, no explanation has been given about why the damage went unnoticed for such a long time. Track Rock Gap is enormous, so there can be no realistic expectation that volunteers or rangers can patrol every inch of it every day or even every week, but it's hard to imagine a nationally important monument being vandalised in this way elsewhere in America without somebody noticing it before now. There have obviously been issues related to the pandemic that have prevented people from going about their patrol and protection duties as they normally would, but then again, the Park was theoretically off-limits to the public when these attacks happened. It might be true that nothing could have been done to prevent this unfortunate incident from happening, but it seems clear that someone - perhaps even several people - were allowed to access the area when they shouldn't have been there. They then damaged the petroglyphs and escaped without being seen, and the results weren't noticed for several months. The prospects of finding the guilty party or parties after such a lengthy delay now appear to be remote. Opportunities have no doubt been missed, and that's one more thing that feels disrespectful. 

There will now be calls for better protection to be afforded to the petroglyphs that still exist at the site. This approach worked in Cullowhee, North Carolina, in 2016 when Native American petroglyphs were attacked there. Those petroglyphs have since been covered over with acrylic panels and ought to be safely preserved for future generations. The same approach could and should protect what's left of the petroglyphs in Track Rock Gap. The necessary work should be carried out immediately. In the meantime, every possible effort should be made to identify the people responsible for this potential hate crime and bring them to justice. When ancient works of art are lost, we lose a little of our Nation's history. Once it's gone, we can't get it back. That's why conservation isn't just a cause - it's a necessity.