Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Re-evaluating the risk of vandalism

I identify the location of as many sites as I can, usually doing it when a site is already pretty badly damaged. I am more hesitant to identify locations of genuinely delicate sites, with piles in good shape. But how many of the sites already documented on this blog has anyone been to? Probably none. In general, I have a hard time imagining someone deliberately following directions given from here to a rock pile site, only to kick over a rock. Not only does it make no sense that anyone would bother, as a matter of fact no one has bothered.

It is not the publicizing of a site which threatens it, because vandalism is opportunistic. People don't go looking for sites to vandalize; instead they stumble on them and get destructive. The only example of this I have seen was my own fault: I cleaned off a pile near a public trail and someone noticed it, noticed the other piles, and decided to pull one apart. I think it was kids that did it. And kids are not reading this blog. But anyway, cleaning piles near trails and worse yet, making new trails to sites should be avoided to reduce opportunities for vandalsm.

I honestly don't think publicizing sites has much to do with it, however out of respect for the sites, and also out of fear that delicate sites will get damaged un-intentionally by visitors, I'll keep quiet about the location of the most delicate and special places.

Update:Jim P points out in comments that the greatest risk to sites is from neo-pagans trying to re-use a site for their own reasons - leaving a mess and destroying the site in the process. This is worse than vandalism, it is cultural theft. But I am going to stick to my guns to the extent of posing this question: were the sites Jim mentions ruined because of publicity or because a trail led to them? In my experience, neo-pagans do not go off trail much. Maybe they are lazy or maybe they are afraid of the actual woods. So I guess I am claiming sites are protected not so much by their secrecy but by being in-accessible. I don't propose we do a study of such things but perhaps I should repeat that making sites public has a significant upside in terms of public awareness. I argue that people who know a site's location are not in the clear just becase they keep the site secret - because they are helping preserve a status quo which includes continued destruction of sites by the construction industry - something much worse, much more systematic and thorough than any neo-pagans.


JimP said...

It isn't vandalism for the sake of vandalism that I fear. It is vandalism from cultural theft.

I've seen it at three Rhode Island sites. I know it occurred at one highly publicized site in Massachusetts as well. I've seen photos of it. I've posted photos of it to this blog.

It's the New Agers, Neo-Pagans, so-called, "twinkies," and, "wannabes," -- non-Indians who are trolling the Internet -- and they are most certainly out there -- trying to learn the locations of sacred spiritual sites so they, themselves, can visit and conduct their own ceremonies.

They remove stones from existing cairns to create their own circles, piles, and structures. Site elements are stolen or moved. Quartz is taken or mopved. Litter is left -- candles, bottles, packaging, etc. But worst of all, the integrity of a site is disturbed beyond repair.

It isn't so much teenaged vandals that we should be concerned about. It is the plethora of non-Indians who think they're somehow entitled to disturb these sites for their own selfish purposes.

Cultural theft is a huge issue in Indian country these days. I think we should do our parts and help by keeping the exact locations of these sites from the public at large. This blog would be a gold-mine to the wannabes who are looking for new places to disturb beyond repair.

greatmuin said...

I totally agree with your comments, well spoken.The message is clear and Respect for these sacred sites is vital.

pwax said...

You are right. But at least in New England there class of vandal called "pot hunter" does not exist in any meaningful way, as it does in the southwest.

Tim MacSweeney said...

The last sentence says a lot; my recent post at "Waking Up" about chestnut rails should have included photos of some of these rails destroyed by the Town during brush clearing along the road last summer.
On a good note that I failed to mention, for reasons I'm not entirely sure of, some zigzag stone rows along my road escaped destruction when the town abandoned plans to re-route my road...

JimP said...

True, Peter, there aren't many pot hunters in New England. Of course, that's mostly because pot-hunting already cleared the vast majority of sites more than 100 years ago.

If you visit many local museums in Massachusertts you'll find scores of artifacts with little or no accession records. It was a veritable free-for-all in New England for hundreds of years. The artifacts have been spread across the world.

But there are people in New England who love to hunt for projectile points. If sites were available, I'm sure they'd be there willing to take just about anything of value that they could find. It's only because New England's sites have been mostly tapped that they aren't doing it. There are a few private farms where artifacts are still available and many hunters go there.

Also out here in the Southwest things are much different because of the vastness of federal lands. There are hundreds of miles of remote desert out here, and very few rangers to guard that land. It's an easy matter to go pot-hunting and remain undetected.

Anyhow, I guess my point is that there still are plenty of good reasons to keep the locations of these sites from becoming public. I think we can relate enough of the details to make the public aware without inviting those who may do harm. We're not keeping secrets, but merely being careful about who has the knowledge to find them.

JimP said...

Oh, and to answer your question about whether these sites I mentioned were ruined because of publicity or because a trail led to them -- there are both. One in Rhode Island was ruined (and continues to be) by publicity and one in Massachusetts was ruined by publicity. The others were ruined because those who did harm found them on their own.

JimP said...

So now I get the dork award for leaving three comments in a row.

As far as the bulldozer claiming sites, that issue needs to be handled very much on a case-by-case basis. Land ownership issues are the primary determinant in the feasibility of site protection.

The land upon which sits many of the sites we talk about on this blog are already protected by preservation easements and conservation purchases. Those that are on private lands are the most at risk, and those are few and far between.

If a site needs to be publicized in order to facilitate its preservation, I'm all for it. But aren't those the exception rather than the rule?

Then there is the problem of having no instrument with which to preserve such sites on private land. I've been fighting for a site in Rhode Island on private land that's ready for the bulldozer. I've even convinced the property owners to preserve it rather than develop it.

But you know what the problem is? There is no way for them to preserve it without losing its total value. Sure, they can save the land as open space or conservation property, but there are no assurances that the structures and features won't one day be leveled anyway.

So, I guess I agree with you Peter, and I disagree with you. I don't think a blanket policy of full disclosure will accomplish much of anything except attract some folks who could potentially do great harm. But selective disclosure for sites that are at risk is indeed necessary.

bcolley said...

Some of what Peter speaks of occurs via lack of knowledge. I have to admit I did this myself. Finding a site that is quite amazing and obviously more than what others just dismissed as stone clearing was frustrating, I simply wanted to know for my own selfish satisfaction (for lack of a better explaination) that these were not stones randomly tossed into piles. I selected a pile that was not well formed and stood out the least to avoid anything that could be viewed as destructive to see if the piles were in fact just stone clearing piles. As it turns out it was layer after layer of stone headed downward to who knows where. Later that day I received an email from Peter and realized that this was a poor decision and replaced the stones the next day. So from personal experience in some cases destructive behavior isn't intended but it does occur. Web Sites like this one are a great resource for those that are trying to better understand what they are finding. It can and does help many like myself better understand what they are discovering and will (if those are searching for answers) enlighten people that these sites are important and in some cases sacred grounds that need protection. I found even more piles today via markers beyond the swamp, mindblowing stuff that hopefully can one day be explained.

Geophile said...

Up where you are, it's probably more liberal, but there is a real threat to some sites in conservative areas because native sacred sites are seen as demonic by right wing Christians, who would feel they were on a crusade for good if they could destroy a few. Bizarre but true. There are also just Indian haters who justify destruction saying, Indians killed our ancestors. Not every area is as civilized as Massachusetts, sadly. In places like Pennsylvania, caution must be observed.