Damage to Big Island petroglyphs may be permanent

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Vandals who desecrated 26 petroglyphs at the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park on the Big Island may have done it for personal use.

Kaloko-Honokohau is considered sacred ground. It’s a place where ancient Hawaiians once called home, close to fishing ponds for ali’i. Many of them lived here and many died here. It is an area with great historic significance.

“Even in the time of Kamehameha, so these are very, very highly regarded fishponds,” National Park Service employee Eric Andersen said.

The park is home to dozens of ki’i pohaku or petroglyphs; symbols of people and events of the past. Each one is unique and tells a story.

Park rangers recently discovered at least 26 petroglyphs desecrated in an area not open to the public.

“We’re quite surprised that it is a form of desecration to do anything to a cultural — very significant cultural site in Hawaii,” Andersen said. “They are hundreds and thousands of years old.”

An unknown white substance was placed on the petroglyphs, which hardened and seeped into the lava.

“This is a very, very resistant substance. We don’t know what it is. We’re having a very difficult time trying to remove it,” Andersen said.

Workers have used paper clips and soft toothbrushes in an effort to remove the substance, but with no success. Damage may be permanent.

“It’s hard, it’s almost like the stone itself. So to remove, we’ve got to be extra careful because you don’t want to remove the actual original image,” Andersen said.

Those familiar with concrete stamps believe vandals may have made rubber stamps out of the petroglyphs to use on concrete lanais or wall art pieces.

“Potentially, this was someone looking to capture the image for some other use,” Andersen said.

This is a federal crime — a felony. Petroglyphs are protected by the Archaelogical Resources Protection Act.

First time offenders can be fined up to $20,000 and imprisoned for up to one year. Second time felony offenders can be fined up to $100,000 and imprisoned for up to five years.

“Come to these places, enjoy them, view them, look upon them with awe and wonder and take pictures photographs and your mind even — and then leave with memories, but please do not alter the landscape in any way so others may enjoy it the same way you have,” Andersen said.

Anyone with information about this case is asked to call the park at (808) 985-6170.

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