A group of ancient Native American petroglyphs in Moab, Utah were defaced early last week, scrawled with a white supremacist slogan and vulgar graffiti. The unidentified perpetrators targeted “Birthing Rock,” a red sandstone boulder inscribed with motifs and drawings by the region’s Native inhabitants including a scene of a woman giving birth and various animal forms.
The vandals etched the phrase “white power” along with other obscenities over a series of triangular anthropomorphic figures on the east side of the slab. While difficult to date precisely, archaeologists believe the designs were created by members of the Anasazi, Fremont, and Ute tribes between 700 and 2,500 years ago.
It’s not the first time a priceless petroglyph has been defaced in Moab. Just weeks ago, a tourist attempting to create a new climbing route installed metal bolts on the Native American panel known as the “Sunshine Wall,” north of Arches National Park. But the racist nature of the most recent vandalism incident has sent shock waves across the region’s Indigenous communities.
“It was very disturbing,” Dorena Martineau, a cultural resource director for the Paiute Tribe of Utah, told Smithsonian Magazine. “We don’t call it art — it’s a [form of] writing. It’s what our people put out there, in the past, even though we can’t read it anymore.”
The Bureau of Land Management has began assessing the damage and cleaning the graffiti, but Nicollee Gaddis-Wyatt of the agency’s Moab Field Office said that the ancient rock would “never be the same.”