Petroglyph Point, which contains the highest concentration of indigenous rock art in California, has been vandalized, authorities said.
The vandals carved over 50 prehistoric and historic pieces across a 300-foot swath within Lava Beds National Monument, according to National Park Service officials.
The site has been temporarily closed and additional security measures have been taken while a long-term protection plan is established, a news release stated.
The park dates the petroglyphs as far back as 4,000 years and cites their cultural importance for the Klamath Tribes.
Tribal chairman Don Gentry said, “We’re certainly devastated by the damage that occurred. Sites like that are irreplacable.”
Lava Beds National Monument Superintendent Mike Reynolds issued the following statement: “A mindless act of this nature causes damage in seconds that can never be restored, shows disrespect to American Indian tribal members and current monument visitors, and prevents future generations from enjoying a part of American history.”
As the Klamath Tribes’ culture and heritage director, Perry Chocktoot is knowledgeable about Petroglyph Point.
He said their ancestors used to climb down cliffs to make petroglyphs, or float canoes across Tule Lake when the waters were much higher. Because the rocks are soft, he said they could carve with anything from stone tools to fire-hardened mahogany sticks.
“Knowledge of the past enriches our people,” Chocktoot said. “We need to educate the general public on the area’s sacredness and the importance of preservation.”
Petroglyph designs include a family drawn together, beasts with single eyes and wave-like lines, the culture and heritage director said.
And since their ancestors are no longer around to decipher the artwork’s meaning, the tribes and the National Parks Service have tried to protect the sites, and to relay their significance to the general public.
“There is a faction of that community down there that believes it’s their right to go mark stuff up and pick up arrowheads and dig up graves and it comes down to a lack of respect for the indigenous people,” Chocktoot said.
“You think they go to their parents’ or grandparents’ cemetery and dig up the headstones? It’s just a shame because when we lose that history we lose as an American people, not just the Native American faction.”
Law enforcement officers are currently conducting an investigation into the vandalism, and Chocktoot said he’s heard of one lead so far.
If visitors see suspicious behavior, or have information relating to this case, they are encouraged to report it to a park ranger.