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SANTA FE – The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is investigating graffiti vandalism at a site near Santa Fe with petroglyphs that date back 8,000 years.
The federal agency believes the vandalism at the La Cieneguilla petroglyphs occurred on Jan. 17 or 18.
At least 10 petroglyphs created by Keresan-speaking Puebloan people were defaced with graffiti of swastikas and human anatomy.
Pamela Mathis, BLM Taos Field Office manager, called the damage “egregious, outrageous and appalling.”
“It’s disrespectful to the heritage of New Mexico, and disrespectful to our future generations,” Mathis said. “We’re charged with protecting these sites so that future generations can learn their cultural history, and each time one of these events happens, it chips away at that.”
The BLM manages the site west of the Santa Fe Regional Airport as an Area of Critical Environment Concern.
Hikers at La Cieneguilla Recreation Area on Tuesday expressed disgust and disappointment at the vandalism.
Jose L. Villegas Sr., who lives near the site, is a member of the Texas Band of Yaqui Indians and the Petroglyphs Por Los Niños Coalition, which formed in 1991 to preserve cultural sites for future generations.
Villegas, 64, called the location “a cultural patrimonial site” and said the “act was sacrilegious in nature, and it is unacceptable.”
“It was painful, it was hurtful,” he said. “It broke my heart.”
Visitors should not attempt to remove any of the paint themselves, but they can volunteer to help with BLM-supervised cleanup.
“We’ve ordered a product which has had some success throughout the bureau because we can apply it and then very carefully, and with instruction from an expert, remove the graffiti and protect petroglyphs without further harming them,” Mathis said.
The graffiti marks the third vandalism incident at the petroglyphs in the last year. New Mexico SiteWatch volunteers who regularly patrol the area found fresh carvings on the rocks last year.
Mathis said Tuesday that BLM law enforcement officers are following up on an eyewitness tip “that may or may not be related” to the graffiti incident.
Arianna Cadlub of Colorado and Catherine Gibbs of Kentucky were visiting the area looking for a hike when they heard of the vandalism.
“I think it’s very sad and unfortunate when it happens,” Cadlub said. “People take advantage of historical stuff and it ruins it for the rest of us.”
Katie, who did not want to give her surname, recently moved to Santa Fe from Minnesota and went to the petroglyphs to hike and meditate when she encountered the graffiti.
“I felt like it was a mockery of ancient wisdom,” Katie said. “Whoever did it seemed not to really honor and respect and understand what this area means and what it means to have the language of ancient wisdom carved here for us to learn from and be with.”
Damaging the cultural sites is a felony with a potential punishment of up to two years in prison and a $20,000 fine for each charge.
Petroglyphs near Santa Fe vandalized