Thousand-year-old Native American rock carvings have been vandalized in Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
The series of over 100 rock carvings, or petroglyphs, in the forest’s Track Rock Gap were created by Creek and Cherokee people beginning more than 1,000 years ago. Etched on soapstone boulders in Union City, Georgia, the carvings make up one of the most significant rock art sites in the southeastern United States and are part of a protected historic site.
Photos shared on Facebook by the U.S. Forest Service show some of the damage, including scratching or painting over the petroglyphs.
“The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is sad and frustrated to learn that Track Rock had been vandalized,” said the Tribal Heritage Preservation Office in a statement Monday.
The office added: “These are special and rare sites. They are special sites for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and for all people as part of the Heritage of this region. Whether through ignorance or malice — the result is irreparable damage to a unique site that connects us directly to the people of the past.”
The petroglyphs are “history written in stone” and “an irreplaceable part of the nation’s heritage,” the U.S. Forest Service said in a statement.
“When looters and vandals destroy archeological and historic sites, part of the Nation’s heritage is lost forever,” according to the statement.
The carvings have long inspired false origin story myths of being tied to a Mayan settlement in the region. In 2013, members of the Muscogee Creek Nation and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians publicly denounced claims that the petroglyphs were created by anyone other than Creek and Cherokee ancestors. Archaeological studies at the site from 2012 found no Mayan artifacts in the area and showed a definitive link to the ancestors of Creek and Cherokee people, according to the national forest’s website.
The site is open to public visitation, but the U.S. Forest Service urged visitors to do their part in protecting the carvings by reporting looting and vandalism, treating artifacts with respect and leaving them in place, and treading lightly when visiting archaeological sites.