Normally when you see a sign on the bathroom door at a National Park or Monument it says something like, ‘Closed for cleaning.’ It is definitely Not Normal to see a sign that reads, ‘Please Help Save…’ the very place where you’re standing! Yet this is what I saw after wrapping-up a photo-shoot last year at Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. I’d begun my Documentary Photography project of Ancient Rock Art at Newspaper Rock specifically because it is easy to locate and protected within Bears Ears. Well, I thought it was protected. The sign, as usual, made no difference whatsoever and now the Monument has been reduced to fifteen percent of its previous size and uranium miners are moving in. Newspaper Rock could be destroyed, or access to it denied by a mining company. The environmental impact will be destructive, permanent and unnecessary.
|Dale in front of bullet vandalized pictographs at Sego Canyon, Utah|
Ancient American Indian rock art, petroglyphs (made by chipping rock surfaces) and pictographs (made by painting or dying rock surfaces), are found throughout the American west. The Native American artworks are between 500 & 4000 years old and some are even more ancient. These are beautiful symbols and stories, permanently preserved in stone by ancient American Indian Shaman-Artists. Imagine the native artist of 2000 years ago, he spent nearly every waking hour simply surviving; hunting, gathering, seeking water and shelter and yet he still made art that survives to modern times.
|Heavily vandalized pictographs at Thompson Springs, Utah|
Today the United States is such a major producer of oil and gas that it is not necessary to drill in National Parks and Monuments to meet demand. Nor is the country so mineral-poor that we need to destroy pristine National Parks to get them. Despite this, the majority party of government seems hell-bent on shrinking or destroying our parks and monuments. This leadership style strikes me as not significantly different from what ISIL has done by destroying the archeological art and cultural heritage in Iraq, Syria and Libya. I find it heartbreaking to see 1500 year old mosques, shrines, churches, monasteries and other ancient and medieval sites blown up and destroyed for no reason other than ignorance and hatred. I don’t even care about the religious significance, simply preserving the art is enough.
|Pictographs at Sego Canyon, Utah|
|Panel at V-Bar-V Ranch, Rimrock, Arizona|
Ancient rock art tells the story of who we were and we should not destroy our own human history. Political movements come and go but once this ancient art is gone, it’s gone forever. This should be obvious.
|Digitally-enhanced Rochester Panel, Moore, Utah|
Ignorance has destroyed some rock art in America. From vandals with rifles who take pot-shots at pictographs to modern-day graffiti-artists who scratch their own ‘artworks’ on top of ancient petroglyphs, this destruction is because of simple stupidity. What ISIL is doing is a deliberate and politically motivated destruction of the historical record. What’s happening in the U.S. is even more insidious as the ruling party abdicates permanent preservation in favor of temporary profit. Allowing the potential destruction of ancient artifacts and artworks for reasons of politics and ignorance leaves all of us culturally poorer.
After the Palmyra Temple's destruction in Syria in August of 2015, the Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA) announced plans to establish a digital record of historical sites and artifacts threatened by ISIL. To accomplish this goal, the IDA, in collaboration with UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) will deploy 5,000 3D cameras to partners in the Middle East. The cameras will be used to capture 3D scans of local ruins and relics.
Documentary photographs will be the only record of these artifacts if the destruction continues. If America is truly ‘great again’ we won’t allow the destruction of our own Native Art history.
|Painted Rocks, Gila Bend, Arizona|
|The 'Balloon Man' petroglyph, Nine Mile Canyon, Price, Utah|
With politically-motivated urgency I’ve been documenting the ancient rock art. There is no imminent threat to these sites –so far, but we can no longer trust our institutions to protect our artistic and cultural heritage. As an individual artist and documentarian I can add my imagery of American petroglyphs and pictographs to the cultural collective.
|"The Great Hunt" Nine Mile Canyon, Price, Utah|
|Newspaper Rock, Bears Ears/Canyonlands National Monument (recently endangered)|
|Nine Mile Canyon|
After working for a year I began a Go Fund Me campaign in 2018 to raise money to continue to travel to and photograph as many rock art sites as feasible. (https://www.gofundme.com/documentary-photography-of-rock-art) With over 7500 sites in the state of Utah alone it’s a formidable task. Fortunately there is a lot of good, documentary-style rock art photography already in existence and I can concentrate my efforts on the most at-risk sites. My efforts are three-pronged: the first step is to document the petroglyph as it is today, with no post-processing retouching. The second step is to digitally retouch the image to remove signs of vandalism, destruction or decay. The goal is to return the image to as close to what the original ancient artist left for time. The third step is artistic. I’m entering into a ‘collaboration over time’ with the ancient artist where I take what he left and use it as a starting point for a digital, impressionistic reinterpretation. A modernization of the ancient form.
|From Artifact to Modern Art|
It’s sad to think that petroglyphs and pictographs that have survived for thousands of years could be destroyed or rendered inaccessible because of one, contemporary political parties’ seeming distaste for conservation. For a century we’ve done a good job protecting our ancient archeological heritage. Native American Indians have done a good job managing and preserving many historical sites in the West. We’ve even educated the stupidest of the stupid not to shoot guns at rock art or vandalize it with graffiti! There is no reasonable reason to change this now.
When describing rock art, a Zuni Elder once said, “I don’t know what it means, but I know it’s important.” Ancient rock art is important because Art History can trace a direct line from 20,000 year-old cave paintings in France to 2000 year-old petroglyphs in Arizona to a just-finished painting in a gallery downtown.
And about that gallery downtown: Dale will be the Featured Artist at Arts Prescott (downtown, at 134 S. Montezuma – Whiskey Row). His new work ---featuring petroglyphs--- will be exhibited through the month of May. The opening reception is Friday April 27 from 5-8PM. The public is invited. Open to all. Refreshments will be served and the artist will be present. See for yourself the magnificent art of the Petroglyph!
As a culture, we cannot reach the future by destroying the past.
If you’d like to contribute to Dale’s Documentary Photography of Rock Art project, please visit:
This was originally written for a print publication but was rejected as being 'too political.' It is presented here, unedited, for those who want to read more. If the political aspects of this offend you then you need a better understanding of just what 'politics' is. First of all, conservation and environmentalism is NOT a political topic. The only thing 'political' about this is that conservative republicans are 'anti-environment' for the only reason that liberals are 'pro-environment.' But "pissing off the libtards" isn't a viable system of governance. Being 'pro-environment' has nothing to do with TRADITIONAL political philosophies of a larger, pro-active government (true liberalism) or a smaller, less active (actual conservatism) governance. Irrespective of your political point of view, destroying ancient artifacts or shitting in your own nest is not a good strategy.
Everything I've written above has been thoroughly researched and is factually correct. So, if you have a problem with anything I've written, you're clearly a hypocritical Trumpster-Republican and are hopeless.