Sunday, January 29, 2017

The logic of publicizing rock pile sites

The rock pile sites being damaged by vandals are a drop in the bucket compared to the sites damaged by real estate development and forestry practices. Those threats can be offset by public awareness, including public sites. So I want to ask NEARA member who favor keeping things secret: What justifies a policy of secrecy?

13 comments :

Norman said...

I really don't believe keeping all rock art sites secret is a smart move. Certain sites that are so large and solid that vandalism would be minimal, should be set aside for educational purposes. because education is the key to preserving sites. Also, lecturing and writing articles for newspapers and mainstream journals about lithic sites (without saying specifically where they're located) are a step in the right direction.

Tommy Hudson said...

Thank you so much for asking that question. It's one of the big questions, isn't it? It is late, so I will post my humble opinion tomorrow.

Tim MacSweeney said...

Some good thoughts here: https://www.getty.edu/conservation/publications_resources/pdf_publications/pdf/rock_art_cultural_treasure.pdf

Tim MacSweeney said...

https://www.academia.edu/10072240/Managing_Rock_Art_Sites_on_Public_Lands_in_North_Georgia

Tim MacSweeney said...

And of course these: https://wits.academia.edu/JohannesJannieLoubser

pwax said...

How about not dodging the question?

Tommy Hudson said...

Should sites be kept secret? It's one of my favorite subjects. To me, it's all about the sites themselves. One question seems to be, do you want them to be safe, or popular? In Georgia, where I live, there is a long history of stone pile and petroglyph sites being bought and sold, ignored, denied, developed, damaged, destroyed, defaced, decorated, drilled into, dug up, driven over, doodled on, walked on, camped on, sexed on, parked on, peed on, poked, prodded, pulp wooded, painted, chiseled, shot at, illegally excavated, moved, fenced, littered, overturned, flooded, bulldozed, blasted, buried, burned, stood up, knocked down, mislabeled, autographed, and stolen. I've heard of, read about, or witnessed all of the above. I've met the people who've done these things, professional and amateur alike. I've found sites with their help. I've had sites damaged by people that I've trusted. I've had academics use my info without crediting me as the source (don't get me started). Human nature being what it is, it seems people "just can't help it." So, in making them public, what is the benefit to the site, more of the above?
My recent ad in Georgia Backroads magazine resulted in over 100 people contacting me. At least 25 of them were New Agers (Woo Woo People), or academics who knew even less about Indians and ethnography than the New Agers, or armchair theorists who wanted to tell me what rock piles and petroglyphs were all about. All of these people thought I would just hand over 40+ years of research for their perusal. I politely declined. And remember, those people are still out there. Should I tell them where my sites are?"
I have no problem making some sites public, particularly if they are properly presented, with signage, trails, and security cameras (Georgia has a couple of test sites). Over the years, I've given many presentations about sites of all types. I tell all but the location. I've even hosted the Eastern States Rock Art Research Association (ESRARA) and took them on field trips to visit sites. That's how I met Norman. That was a good day. Several times, ESRARA members have broached the subject of creating a central repository for documenting and mapping site locations. We all say "hurrah" and pat each other on the back, and then sit back and say, "You go first." Actually, I don't know anyone who really wants to do it, and since I think I'm well down the road to figuring all this out, it won't be me.
Seriously, I really do share information with like minded professionals and informed researchers that I know. Four people I know share information with me and help me find sites. I trust them, and having someone "like minded" to talk about these things is a real gift. So, I rarely go alone to sites anymore. A second opinion and pair of eyes is a good thing.
I've already made arrangements to turn all of my information over to the Georgia State Site Files, and will be doing that in the next couple of years. Even though I trust the curator, Mark Williams, it still makes me nervous. I think all of us that are involved in this adventure owe it to the sites we cherish to be prudent about how we share our info. We also have to remember that many of these sites are on private property, and the landowner is trusting us to keep it a secret. Err on the side of caution. I think it just has to be that way.
So, as often happens, I will end with more questions. Do you want them safe or popular? What is the benefit to the site? Do the reasons for making them public, outweigh the reasons for keeping them secret?

Tim MacSweeney said...

Gosh: I was just citing some relevant material about preservation - didn't mean to sound like a member of the Trump administration dodging the question you were posing to NEARA members!

pwax said...

My experience is different from Tommy's. I only saw one pile once, next to a trail, that was pulled apart for curiosity. The shooting and sex are not things I have encountered at sites. The burial mounds I see: the soul has flown and only a machine could erase the mound - and there is nothing to dig up around here.

So I hear you and respect your desire to keep things safe. But for me the choice is between "safe" and "gone". I know a few delicate sites I would keep semi private and I have a few secrets, simply because I enjoy having a secret or two. Larger well preserved sites are threatened (around here) by development and logging. Hunters are busy hunting, and no one else goes out into the woods. So let's make larger sites known to the neighborhood. As much video surveillance and neighborhood stewardship as possible is good.

Nobody, including readers of this blog, cares at all about smaller badly damaged piles. There is nothing left to kick over.

So readers and commetors: tell us you stories of site vandalism and tell us who did it? Random individuals or systematic organized forces such as forestry and development?

pwax said...

I want to talk about stewardship, as it is practiced in Acton MA and to some extend Carlisle MA. But I'll start a different post.

Matthew Howes said...

In my experience: Sites destroyed from development (condos and industrial parks.) But you have already said so much about developers. The other damage I have seen to sites is from the old quarrying days, 19th century- mid 20th century. Also, I have seen the evidence of mountain bikers disturbing sites, using stones for their ramps/ make-shift trail systems- in the Vietnam bike trails yes, but also to my dismay I have seen the evidence of a local teenager in the woods behind Beatrice Ln. in Holliston taking rock piles apart and making make-shift trails lined with the rocks from piles, and also ramps/ jumps.

pwax said...

Matt, I wonder if those people know what they were doing? Another reason to expand education about sites - which cannot happen with too much secrecy.

JimP said...

I am reminded of a story about when the Mohegan Tribe was trying to build a government center on their property near Mohegan Hill. In opposition, one of the town officials voiced his concern for the preservation of ancestral burials during development. The town wanted the tribe to divulge the locations of those burials to assure that they would not be disturbed. When it was favorable to the tribe's petition to divulge sensitive information publicly, the tribe declined.

I have an entire chapter in my new book about the inviolable secrecy of the northeast native peoples. So much of their past has been wiped from the earth by pot hunters, grave robbers, curiosity-seekers, right on down to settlers who had a disdain for the sites, or a disregard, or a lack of respect, and plowed them over or dismantled the stones for other purposes. Burials have been disinterred. Remains have been disturbed. Funerary items have been stolen. So much has been destroyed, and so much has been kept secret, that pseudoscience and racism has filled the vacuum.

At the same time, it's going to take non-native peoples to build an awareness and respect for these sites. It won't be up to the tribes. They've been working on that for centuries with little success. Unless we divulge the sites publicly, awareness will never be raised.

And unless we get the professional scientific community to come around, conservation will be the exception rather than the rule. But Peter Waksman definitely has the right approach-- local governments are the way to go.