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Gary R Varner

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The Destruction of America's Cultural Resources
By Gary R Varner   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Saturday, February 04, 2006
Posted: Monday, May 19, 2003

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A recent tour of ancient Native American sites revealed more than rock art.

Recently I was on a tour of ancient sites in the American Southwest conducting research for my next book, Water of Life—Water of Death. My travels consisted of 2500 miles through California, Arizona and Nevada in pursuit of Native American rock art and sacred water sites.

Approximately 16 miles north west of Bishop, California in the Owens Valley is a large section of land designated as an “area of environmental concern”. There are four areas of ancient petroglyphs here exhibiting some of the richest visual lore handed down by the ancestors of the Owens Valley Paiute. I was especially interested in photographing a large panel of rock art depicting the footprints of “Water Babies”. “Water Babies” are a race of spirit helpers or faeries, which have a long history in Southwestern Indian lore. They reside in and near water and large rock outcrops. Some rock art depictions of water baby tracks have been found in New Mexico and Baja California as well as the Sierra Nevada’s in California. I found it—or rather what was left of it. While the sites are on BLM land they are totally unprotected. A good two-thirds of the rock art has been destroyed or broken off by vandals and collectors. Huge sections of the rock face has been hacked into pieces and removed or, worse yet, destroyed by shotgun blasts.

I am sickened. I am saddened. I am very angry. What was made by the First Americans hundreds and thousands of years ago to illustrate their history, their beginnings, their migrations; their concepts of spirituality are no more. Good “Americans” who decry the devastation of the Baghdad Museum spend their weekends chiseling, hammering and blasting their way through untold levels of cultural significance. A few pieces taken relatively whole will be sold or placed in private gardens. Those that couldn’t be removed for profit, like the prints of the water babies, were simply destroyed.

What is it in our society that places so little value on the preservation of history and the remains of an ancient culture? Is it because we do not ourselves have anything of value and so resent those ancent objects that represent the ideals and beliefs and values of others? Would we rather obliterate that which we do not understand than to preserve it for our children and future generations to come?

The foot prints of the water babies and those other images reflecting the thoughts and ideas and history of a lost people are gone forever…they can never be replaced or reconstructed because some drunken or grievously greedy red-neck decided it was more fun to blow them to smithereens than to allow them to exist for study and for the enjoyment of others.

Don’t tell me that we Americans are so good and grand and into the preservation of freedoms when individually we are into our own forms of depravity and the denial of the right of people to learn and to enjoy the heritage of America’s past.

It is the responsibility of the BLM to protect the sites that are on Federal property and they have failed miserably in this instance. But ultimately it is the responsibility of all of us to protect the cultural resources of our country. Right now I feel that no punishment could be too severe for those caught destroying these precious sites. It is time for those entrusted with their protection to do what they are pledged to do and not allow these acts of sacrilege to continue. It is also up to us as individuals to protect our own cultural resources.

We protect our churches and synagogues and mosques but do little to protect the sacred sites of our indeginous cultures. We must change this and soon or we all loose in the end.

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Reviewed by Carolyn Red Bear (The Bear Paw) 5/20/2003
It's been happening since 1492!!! When will people see the truth? Thank you, Gary. These words need to be said, and heard. -Bear

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