An ancient site of carved boulders and rock formations in a Georgia forest that has long been sacred to Native Americans has been vandalized with paint and deep scratches, the U.S. Forest Service said.
The rocks are part of the Track Rock Gap site in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, a protected area of over 800,000 acres where more than 100 figure sculptures known as petroglyphs were made on soapstone rocks by Native Americans in pre-colonial times, the service said. .
Five rocks had scratches and two had paint, said Steven Bekkerus, a spokesperson for the forestry service.
“It is one of the most significant rock art sites in the Southeastern United States and the only such site on public land in Georgia,” the service said on Facebook on Monday.
The northern Georgia region is made up of two forests, the Oconee National Forest in the eastern part of the state and the Chattahoochee National Forest in the mountains of northern Georgia. The Track Rock Gap site is sacred to the Muscogee Creek Indians and the Cherokee people, the Forest Service has said.
Mr Bekkerus said in an interview on Wednesday that the service’s law enforcement unit was investigating the vandalism with the help of its tribal partners. He said the Facebook post about the vandalism was removed due to the investigation.
“It’s their site that we run,” he said, referring to the folks at Muscogee Creek and Cherokee. The vandalism, which was reported by The Charlotte Observer, was believed to have taken place in 2020, but the exact time and how it was discovered was not immediately clear, Mr Bekkerus said. Campgrounds nearby had recently opened after being closed for the winter, he said.
Damage to historic sites can be investigated under federal laws, including the Archaeological Resource Protection Act 1979, which seeks to protect archaeological resources on public and Native American lands.
Mr Bekkerus said the rocks were surrounded by fences to make them accessible for people to learn more about their history, and the area was clearly marked as a site of importance.
Archaeological excavations have shown that ancestors of Muscogee Creek and Cherokee used the site, possibly for over 1,000 years, telling stories through rock carvings, the Forest Service said in 2012 when it announced the findings. research that ruled out a possible Mayan settlement of the site.
James Wettstaed, a Forest Service archaeologist, provided details of the site at the time, saying its rock piles and rock-like features date from at least AD 800, and possibly earlier .
The Cherokee Tribal Heritage Preservation Office said in a statement that the Eastern Cherokee Band was “sad and frustrated” to learn of the vandalism.
“These are special sites for the eastern band of the Cherokee Indians and for all the heritage peoples of this region,” the statement said. “Whether through ignorance or malice – the result is irreparable damage to a unique site that connects us directly to people of the past.”
Petroglyphs are also found in other states. Richard Sneed, the principal chief of the eastern band of the Cherokee Indians, said Wednesday that large rock petroglyphs had already been vandalized, including one in Cullowhee, North Carolina, in 2016, which was later covered with an acrylic panel to protect him.
It is believed that some petroglyphs communicate a tribal story. Another, in Macon County, Georgia, was believed to have been used in a fertility rite, he said.
“It demonstrates the need for better education,” he said of the vandalism.
“When you talk about historic sites and culturally sensitive sites, that’s really the most shocking thing,” he said. “It’s our story, and to have degraded it and to be treated with such disrespect is very sad.”
Emman Spain, who previously oversaw the historic preservation of the Muscogee Creek Nation, said the Track Rock Gap site consists of rocks stacked in a linear fashion, creating terraces, with cremation urns and sites spanning a mountain. .
“There is always a real problem with the looters coming in and not caring about the human remains,” he said. Some take arrowheads and pots, he says.
Mr Spain said the Muscogee Creek Nation extended into parts of what is now eastern Tennessee, northern Alabama, northern Georgia and parts of the Carolinas before Europeans arrived. , who encroached on the land and expelled the tribe in the 1830s to what is now Oklahoma.
“But we still remember our homeland there,” he said.