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Vandalism threatens rock art

by Susie Vasquez

Evidence of human habitation dates back 10,000 years in Storey County’s Lagomarsino Canyon, where petroglyphs tell a tale of people who once camped there.

The ancient art, though prevalent, is poorly understood. Vandalism now threatens the integrity of the site, and the images, which may never be deciphered, could be lost forever, said Dr. Alanah Woody, executive director of the Nevada Rock Art Foundation.

She’s leading the effort to preserve, record, and protect the petroglyphs, which she says are one of the largest concentrations in the western United States.

“The site is one-quarter mile long, a basalt rim with talus below,” she said. “We’ve divided the area into 10 or 11 sections and photographed 700 panels.” A panel is a rock face bearing petroglyphs.

On a map at her office at the Nevada State Museum, Woody pointed to a small portion that’s been photographed and documented.

“I estimate that’s about one-tenth of the total site,” she said.

One large rock can have more than one panel, and there probably between 5,000 to 10,000 panels at the site, she said.

“The site is on the boundary between the Washoe and Paiute territories,” she said. “Both groups used the area, but the Washoe traditionally claimed it.”

Storey County owns the property. It is remote so the county hasn’t been able to justify development until now. Storey officials are supportive of any efforts, but due to budget restrictions, can’t offer financial help. And since 2000, the area has seen a dramatic increase in vandalism, Woody said.

“That was the main impetus for creation of the Nevada Rock Art Foundation,” she said. “People respond to rock art, but they don’t feet they can do anything to preserve the sites. The foundation is an outlet for them. We train volunteers to help with site recordings and public education. Once people are given the chance to help, they’re all over it.”

The private nonprofit organization operates primarily through private funding and membership dues, but federal and local officials have also contributed to the effort, she said.

“NDOT gave us break on an aerial map and loaned us the mapping equipment,” she said. “And Dan Kaffer donated the film. The work is done through volunteers, and that’s our biggest expense.”

Kaffer is with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Services.

The next step is creating a stewardship program, with volunteers committing to visiting the site every three to four months.

“They will count visitors and make observations, noting any changes at the site,” she said.

She said the foundation is interested in the many sites throughout Nevada.

“Nevada is an exciting place,” she said. “In the present and the past, Nevada has had the most interesting, creative people.”

Woody received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in archaeology from the University of Nevada, Reno, and her doctorate from the University of Southampton, England. She is the collections manager at the state museum.