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31 January 2009
Canadian rock petroglyphs are rapidly vanishing

"It's a place for dreams," says Gary Manson, a spiritualist with the Snuneymuxw First Nations, as he walks towards the entrance of Petroglyph Provincial Park, a two-hectare chunk of land situated northeast of Peterborough, Ontario, Canada and dotted with rock carvings more than 1,000-years-old. In the past, this park was a spiritual refuge for the Snuneymuxw and a source for inspiration for their own personal journeys, said Manson. But as traffic volumes increased along an highway nearby and more people began visiting the park it gradually lost its sense of solitude. "Every petroglyph contains our ancestors' spirit. Due to the traffic around us, it has been weakened by that," said the elder.
     Although there are replicas of the petroglyphs in the park, visitors seeking out the original carvings hidden among the trees and bushes have worn away the artifacts. Vandalism has also been a problem over the years. While this petroglyph site is relatively well-known, there are many other First Nations relics in and around the community that people might walk past without even knowing it.
     Exactly how to deal with these ancient sites presents a dilemma, says Doug Glaum, a manager with the archeology branch of the British Columbia Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts. If you draw too much attention to them, it will attract more people eager for a peek at the relics and increase the chance that the carvings being worn away or vandalized. Keep them hidden, and they could be destroyed inadvertently. For example, hikers and all-terrain vehicles have ground away unmarked petroglyphs near Harewood Mines Road, possibly without the culprits even knowing what they were doing. "That's the double-edged sword we have to deal with," said Glaum. "Unfortunately, the best thing for the petroglyph is for people to not know where they are." But keeping them off the public's radar altogether could decrease the interest in and appreciation for B.C.'s ancient history.
     A number of ancient petroglyphs have been destroyed in Nanaimo over the years, said archeologist Lorraine Littlefield."There were petroglyphs all over Snuneymuxw territory, and many of them now are either buried under moss or have been destroyed by development as the town has grown," said Littlefield. Petroglyph Provincial Park, established in 1948 to protect the relics, still exposes them to vandalism, she said. Fences have been put up to guide visitors away from trails that lead to sensitive sites, but there is little else to prevent people from following the well-worn paths to sensitive areas.
     Nick Doe wants to record as much information as he can about the remaining petrogylphs on Gabriola Island. "We've already lost some," said the amateur archeologist, the only person now actively researching the ancient sites. "In 10 years they will be quite depleted and by 20 there will be very few left." A proper survey of the roughly 120 petroglyphs on the island needs to be completed, he said, but little work has been done by professional archeologists on this Island in the last 20 years. And these artifacts won't wait around forever. He doesn't think that the general public's interest in archeology is strong enough to ensure the artifacts are properly recorded before they disappear. Interest from the archeology and anthropology community in general has also been minimal, he added, because the artifacts cannot be dated so there's little appeal for new archeologists to investigate them. And Patricia Ormerod, with the Archaeological Society of B.C., said opinion surveys have shown that documenting and preserving Canada's history before European settlers isn't a major priority for the public.

Source: Times Colonist (20 January 2009)

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