Most people living in Las Vegas don’t realize that artifacts of human history from ancient times are sitting out in the open and vulnerable all around our city. The technical term is petroglyph, but I prefer the more descriptive ‘Native American Rock Art.’
They are numbered in the thousands, and surround us in the mountain and rocky areas in nearly every direction around Las Vegas. These ancient drawings are among the only things left that tell us of the people who inhabited this land thousands of years ago up until Europeans arrived. They are our connection to history and to those people. Moreover, they are perhaps a reflection of ourselves.
Scientists haven’t been able to identify a code for these writings. It is uncertain whether they are a language, or just art. Perhaps time, research and further discovery may unlock the answers to these mysteries–but is time working against us? Can we protect these treasures?
Wherever they are found, there is likely other evidence of the life of the humans who carved them into the rock. This evidence sometimes comes in the form of scars on rock surfaces from ages of fires, or worn areas on large boulders where grains were ground to flour. The areas where they are found were a home or temporary residence for the native people. As such, they deserve a status akin to sacredness: something worth at minimum our admiration and protection.
One such area is Sloan Canyon, which lies a mere stone’s throw from the residential development of Sun City Anthem in Henderson. Sloan possesses a quantity of petroglyphs so vast that it has been called theSistine Chapel of Native American Rock Art. All told, some 1700 individual designs of rock art have been discovered at this site alone.
Can you imagine if the artwork in the Sistine Chapel were sitting out in the open in the middle of the desert, unprotected? It would easily become the victim of theft, if not vandalism, both tragic and unacceptable scenarios.
If nothing else, the petroglyphs can be ruined simply by being touched. According to the National Parks Service, “even a small amount of the oils from our hands can erode petroglyphs and destroy the patina (color) of the carved or pecked image.”
They also had the following warning:
“All archaeological and historic sites within Petroglyph National Monument are protected by a number of laws and regulations including the Antiquities Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. These and other laws prohibit digging, removing artifacts, damaging and defacing archaeological resources in national parks, and provide felony and/or misdemeanor prosecution with imprisonment up to ten years and fines up to $100,000.”
While these laws are on the books to protect these artifacts, the reality is that preservation and enforcement take resources–resources which we are yet to dedicate.
We are indebted to leaders like Senator Harry Reid for the establishment of the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area in order to prevent vehicle traffic and isolate these artifacts from ruin. That legislation was passed in 2002 with the bi-partisan support of Nevada’s delegation.
However, there are still places like Gold Butte that remain in need of further protection. It is sad how often politics get in the way of such simple matters. The preservation of our natural and cultural history ought to invariably ascend partisan differences.