I am shocked that people could put tons of graffiti in caves

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Postby JD » May 4, 2006 1:03 pm

Look, I don't like grafitti either, but is taking a sand blaster in and peeling off the the outer layer of cave wall, and its patina, really the right approach here? I think not. In fact, it damages the host rock and speeds up erosion. Maybe you think it improves the aesthetics of the site, but for how long and at what cost?

What really ticks me off is that these so called "conservationists" think they are doing good when they are damaging resources (whats under that grafitti anyway, stoke marks? glyphs? historic signatures?) Then the cave is not access protected and it leaves a blank slate for future vandalism. But by then any cultural material underneath is gone and the exterior host rock is badly damaged.

Sand blasting is terrible for cultural, biological, and yes even geologic,
resources in caves. Sandblasting has no place in American caves. Period.

When will the NSS start appying it's own preservation principles. Instead, they give the progenitors of these inappropriate methods awards.

Work for cave preservation at all times, and when it conflicts with restoration, preservation absoloutely must take priority.

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Postby graveleye » May 4, 2006 1:29 pm

I was talking with a long time, life-long prominent caver, while visiting a prominent caving place just the other day (how's that for vague? :-) ) and we got on the subject of cave vandalism after chatting a bit. I was a little taken back when he mentioned that perhaps there should be "sacrificial caves". Just let the locals tear it up. At least while they are trashing the local beer-swilling spot, they are not trashing the good caves...just a thought. I'm not really sure I like that idea either, but it sort of made sense, especially when there really isnt much you can do about it.
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Postby Dawn M Ryan » May 4, 2006 6:56 pm

There is life in the cave, on the walls, that you can't see. What happens to that if you sand blast the walls? What about the paint that is blasted off? Does it just go into the ground? That is bad for the cave too. I know leaving the grafitti just promotes more. But what is more important?

The only thing I remember about Buckner's cave is the horrible urine smell. Disappointing. But it's good to see a conservancy happening there.

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Postby Sean Ryan » May 8, 2006 2:34 pm

graveleye wrote:I was talking with a long time, life-long prominent caver, while visiting a prominent caving place just the other day (how's that for vague? :-) ) and we got on the subject of cave vandalism after chatting a bit. I was a little taken back when he mentioned that perhaps there should be "sacrificial caves". Just let the locals tear it up. At least while they are trashing the local beer-swilling spot, they are not trashing the good caves...just a thought. I'm not really sure I like that idea either, but it sort of made sense, especially when there really isnt much you can do about it.


I don't know of any instances where caves were intentionally picked to be sacrificial. It just happens in certain caves, mostly close to major roads and population centers. The unintentional and beneficial side effect is that these whipping boys take year after year of punishment that otherwise could be distributed through that area's pristene caves. The spray paint and chisel crews usually don't seek out a second cave once they already have one to go to.
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Postby graveleye » May 9, 2006 12:32 pm

Sean Ryan wrote:
graveleye wrote:I was talking with a long time, life-long prominent caver, while visiting a prominent caving place just the other day (how's that for vague? :-) ) and we got on the subject of cave vandalism after chatting a bit. I was a little taken back when he mentioned that perhaps there should be "sacrificial caves". Just let the locals tear it up. At least while they are trashing the local beer-swilling spot, they are not trashing the good caves...just a thought. I'm not really sure I like that idea either, but it sort of made sense, especially when there really isnt much you can do about it.


I don't know of any instances where caves were intentionally picked to be sacrificial. It just happens in certain caves, mostly close to major roads and population centers. The unintentional and beneficial side effect is that these whipping boys take year after year of punishment that otherwise could be distributed through that area's pristene caves. The spray paint and chisel crews usually don't seek out a second cave once they already have one to go to.


I look back at my post and my poor use of the word "should" (be sacrificial caves). Thats not what I meant as in appointing a cave and saying here ya go, go trash it, stay away from the others... I really meant what you said in the latter part of your statement, that if the vandals have a place to trash, they will not seek out more... sorry bout that, I had to clarify.
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Postby NZcaver » May 13, 2006 12:41 am

JD wrote:Look, I don't like grafitti either, but is taking a sand blaster in and peeling off the the outer layer of cave wall, and its patina, really the right approach here? I think not. In fact, it damages the host rock and speeds up erosion. Maybe you think it improves the aesthetics of the site, but for how long and at what cost?

What really ticks me off is that these so called "conservationists" think they are doing good when they are damaging resources (whats under that grafitti anyway, stoke marks? glyphs? historic signatures?) Then the cave is not access protected and it leaves a blank slate for future vandalism. But by then any cultural material underneath is gone and the exterior host rock is badly damaged.

Sand blasting is terrible for cultural, biological, and yes even geologic,
resources in caves. Sandblasting has no place in American caves. Period.

While I agree with many of your points, I don't think sandblasting should be totally dismissed (as your last blanket statement suggests).

This issue totally depends on the specific cave. If the graffiti is proved to be "historic" - leave it alone. If there are significant cultural, biological, or geological concerns - and the graffiti can be removed with less invasive techniques than sandblasting - then seek those alternatives. Otherwise the decision to keep or remove graffiti - and how - needs to be made on a cave-by-cave basis, just like other cave management policies.

Dave Everton mentioned sandblasting equipment earlier in this thread. He was referring to a trailer-mounted operation using a slightly different technique to traditional sandblasting - small recyclable glass beads. This equipment has been making it's way around the US for several years now. It was even at Convention last year, and was used in a local cave. It was originally conceived in Arizona to clean up Peppersauce Cave, a popular "sacrificial" cave. To my knowledge, there were no cultural issues with the cave, and any damage to the biology/geology had already been done by countless destructive and/or careless visitors. And interestingly, this "blank slate" hasn't attracted much in the way of new graffiti (so far).

In another state, a lava tube often used for educating school groups was left with the gate open for a whole season. End result - copious offensive graffiti, and no more visits with kids until the problem is "fixed". This may mean wire brushes, sandblasting (or bead-blasting), or using dirt already in the cave to paint a kind of cover-up on the walls. But, at least in this instance, it doesn't mean just ignoring the problem and leaving it (or hoping it will magically go away by itself). :roll:

Dawn M Ryan wrote:...What about the paint that is blasted off? Does it just go into the ground? That is bad for the cave too.

Good point. Large plastic tarps are usually laid on the ground before the cleanup begins. Then they are carefully folded up and removed from the cave once the dust settles. Shop vacs can also be used to suck up the excess material.
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Postby JD » May 13, 2006 10:39 am

First, don't get me started about what a disaster (as a precedent) the Peppersauce Cave project was, and how it horrified anyone interested in historic preservation underground. That the Forest Service archaeologists allowed it, and that the NSS celebrated it, is still unfathomable to me. The people involved in the this project, including the NSS Conservation folks, know my position on this.

Look, even a smudge of carbon on the wall ( i.e. a stoke mark or historic torch mark) conveys important cultural information. I will continue to push the NSS hard on this issue until they come to terms with the reality of cultural resources underground and the tension between historic preservation and ill-concieved restoration projects.

I will also continue to make blanket statements about sandblasting until that time. Maybe it is shocking to your sensibilities to hear someone challenge the dominant "conservation" orthodoxy, but it really needs to happen. I truly believe that in the future cavers will look back at the techniques Keeler and others are using and think that this must truly have been the dark ages for speleology.

You haven't addressed the basic science issue first. That is, removing the patina damages the host rock and speeds up weathering. I would point to several important articles in American Caves as a resource you might want to look at if you are serious about engaging the issue of underground cultural resources and grafitti removal. And ask the premier cave historian in America today what he thinks about grafitii removal. But stand back as he might hit you with his mule girth.

BYW, there is virtually no circumstance in which wire brushes should be used in a cave (sigh). Why are you still using these techniques from the 1970s? I mean, I can't believe I'm saying this, but try to use a soft nylon brush if you going to do it!

I was ignorant of cave resources long ago, and I used wire brushes to clean grafitti in an important show cave. Now I can go back 25 or 30 years later, and I see the unsightly areas where we had used the technique. Worse, now that I know a little more about cave resources, I realize that the site had important historic and yes, even prehistoric resources, on site. Turns out there are incredible cultural treasures in this cave that no-one had seen or recognized that I easily could have destroyed in an effort to get the grafitti on top off. And these losses would have been the result of a well-meaning person using a barbaric technique.

Do we allow uninformed cavers to make decisions as to what biological resources can be "removed"from a cave? No! So why
are we letting uninformed cavers decide which cultural resources are ok to remove? Or obliterate? Would these folks know a historic torch mark from a prehistoric cane torch carbon scatter? A handcut nail from a manufactured one? Until they do, this is the definition of poor resource management..

Bragging about the use of the sandblaster at Convention last year actually proves my point. As Wilbanks and the others were trying to set up their little demonstration project, every cave they initially considered was a horrible choice that had important cultural resources in it THAT THEY KNEW NOTHING ABOUT. So Alan and Marion had to stop them from damaging more than one cave! They ended up going to an SCCi cave, I believe, which upset a lot of SCCi members, as that is not THEiR definition of conservation.

If you wish to discuss criteria for removal, then we can talk about the origin of the NPS 50 year rule, and how arbitrary it is. No-one has made a serious argument otherwise, though I would like to see one.

So there I was in this little Tennessee cave, and Dr. Lewis said, look at all these really tiny troglobitic snails on this mud matrix on the side of this nasty formation. No-one but an expert would see them. I never had, though I'd been in the cave before. Oh, and there is some graffiti nearby...

Sandblasting has no place in American caves. Period. Get used to hearing it. I've been saying it for years. Where have you been?

First, there is the issue of introducing power and manpower in the cave, and all the artifical lighting, and removal of spent material, and the introduction of foreign material, and then there is the issue of resource identification beforehand. How many removal projects really bring in geologic experts, archaeological experts, and biological experts beforehand anyway? And who's paying for the inventories? If you find crickets are you going to ove them? Btw - I asked the forest service folks at Peppersauce for their comprehensive resource inventory plan which I had assumed they had before the before the project - oops! No such thing! To your knowledge there were no cultural issues involved, you say. This is exactly the problem - no one knows! Alan says he didn't see anything, but even he can miss stuff.

All I know is that in the eastern and mid-sections of the U.S. virtually every cave has "cultural issues." I suspect much the same is true of western caves, based on my limited experience.

You are going to have to do better than just saying every cave is different and every managment decision has to be attuned to that. That is a given.

What you are not doing is taking on the fundamental critiques of what you are advocating, and how it fits (?) into the "Leave Nothing but Footprints" philosophy of preservation.
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Postby Ralph E. Powers » May 14, 2006 4:24 pm

I understand JD's post and agree with that cavers need to be more careful about what lies beneath these unsightly disfigurements of our resources. Still like with a cave for example in Utah, to note that there hasn't been any notable "historical" graffiti found, to my understanding this cave was found in the early 70's and shortly after it's discovery was vandalized and formations harvested. Locals continue to add on to their predecessor's markings.

Still point is noted and taken that those in charge of graffiti removal projects need to carefully document and note where potential historical and archeolgical<sic> sites in the cave to be preserved.

But if the modren day vandals have painted over these specific areas how then is the top layer removed without damage to the lower areas? Just wondering.
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Postby Jim Wilbanks » May 16, 2006 11:00 am

Joe;

You need to get your facts straight. You wrote:

Bragging about the use of the sandblaster at Convention last year actually proves my point. As Wilbanks and the others were trying to set up their little demonstration project, every cave they initially considered was a horrible choice that had important cultural resources in it THAT THEY KNEW NOTHING ABOUT. So Alan and Marion had to stop them from damaging more than one cave! They ended up going to an SCCi cave, I believe, which upset a lot of SCCi members, as that is not THEiR definition of conservation.

Alan and Marion didn't stop us from doing anything. We consulted them and others to find a cave which we could safely remove the graffiti from. Your premise that any convenient palate for spray paint is a good spot for historic markings was taught to the attendees.
We chose a cave which had been scrubbed clean by well meaning conservationists in the seventies for our demonstration.
You would have approved of many of the skills we taught. We showed attendees tally marks overlayed with spraypaint. We taught how toxic acid was to cavers as well as the cave biota.

I don't know where you got the information the we used an SCCI cave. That is not true.

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Postby Jim Wilbanks » May 16, 2006 12:30 pm

I think the SCCI cave that Joe was referring to is Byers Cave. The SERA Karst Task Force began graffiti removal in that cave a year ago, but it was not used for the workshop during convention. Since Byers was dug open in the sixties, we were sure that nothing of historic value would be present. Still, we had Alan check the cave out.

The SKTF always consults with historical experts before committing to remove graffiti.

As to the question of increasing erosion by scraping the top layer off the rock, I have one question.

What is a cave if not an erosional feature?

We cavers are just a second in the long term formation of the cave. The cave was eroding inside before we crawled out of the ooze and it will continue to erode after we have been slouphed off like dead skin cells by mother Earth. All we can do at this point in the continuum is to try and stop the spraying. Most urban area with graffiti problems point to prompt removal of graffiti as the only solution.

Active microbial dissolution occurs on all exposed rock. It is present in all limestone caves as far as I know. From the driest of passages to the muddiest crawl, microbes are eating the rock. When we scrub the rock clean, the microbes eventually take over and the rock will return to its pre-scrubbed state.

The only damage to the biota is in the spraying of the paint. The release of thinners, drying agents, and other chemicals does the damage. What is left on the rock are simple alkaloyds which are basically inert.

Recenty, Byers cave was visited by a Canadian biologist who specializes in cave spiders. He found a new species in Byers. He described the population of spiders, beetles, pseudoscorpians, millipeds and Opilionids as healthy.

All of his collections and observations were conducted in the first few hundred feet of the entrance. These rooms were full of garbage and completely covered in graffiti, when the SCCI regained use of the cave. All the garbage and graffitti was removed. We used wire brushes to scrape the walls. There was a lot of discussion within the SKTF about any damage we might have done.

Where were the spiders and other biota found in such a healthy state? they were observed/collected at the base of the scrubbed walls living quite well among the paint chips.
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Postby JD » May 20, 2006 3:38 pm

I admit graffiti is unsightly, Ralph. Maybe there is nothing under the spraypaint. But maybe there is. Can't really tell from the photo. And the question is what do you do if so?

The answer is to approach it the way an historic preservationist would attack the problem of spraypaint on an historic building. It is slow, labor-intensive, and expensive work. But the use of a sandblaster in the field that deals wiith these issues daily would be scoffed upon.

For more information about the problems of erosional (to the host rock) removal techniques, and an introduction to the issue of increased weathering by removal of patine (which apparently has more to do with limestone "sweating" than any microbial action) see K. Follet, "Graffiti Control and Removal: Lessons from an Urban Setting," American Caves Winter 1999: 9-15.

My last main point was that many caves in the southeastern and middle sections of the U.S. have cultural issues, and this was amply proven by the fact that the first few caves which were suggested for the sandblasting at convention had cultural issues. The one finally deemed suitable was a cave in which a well-meaning but misguided crew had already damaged the historic resources. BTW, One member wrote an interesting article about how MOS chewed her out for it, and how she learned about the problem of damage to cultural resources in caves. Also see articles by D. Hubbard, and Mick and Sue of CRF. I have the citations.

In addition to historic material in thousands (I choose this word carefully) of caves, the caves in the SE are the sites of a large-scale (regional) prehistoric tradition of cave exploration, centered in Tennessee, which involves many hundreds of sites. A component of this tradition includes dozens and dozens of dark zone art sites. Many of these are still unknown or barely known, much less documented and studied. Why risk the damage to the cultural resources? How does this fit into preservation, whose primary thrust is, after all, to preserve?

The biological argument over sandblasting should perhaps be done by the experts in that field, but I would suggest anecdotal evidence is insufficient. I believe every cave biologist worth her salt would prefer habitats that are relatively undisturbed (no spraypaint), but that would also mean no sandblasting or grinding. Perhaps you could start a discussion at the NSS biology section meeting. I think it would be interesting indeed.

But when I do field work with cave biologists, they all seem really concerned about the substrate. So why mess with it?

Sorry I got the date wrong on Byers, but I still think sandblasting or grinding in there is a mistake. The SCCI knows this.

Until we acknowledge the inherent tension between preserving versus restoring, this discussion will continue. In the long run, I hope, the preservation of cultural material in caves will be deemed as important as biological, geological, hydrological, and aesthetic concerns within the cave conservation community.

Ralph, I wanted to upload two photos but am too lazy (or slow) to figure out how to do it. Maybe Lynn can post them for me - one a generic cluster of stoke marks, the other her prehistoric glyph (a rattlesnake) with spraypaint over it. Please? Just a taste of what is out there and what to look for?

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Postby Eve » Aug 24, 2006 10:22 am

Conservation vs. preservation ... we can't always do both. The argument that every human trace is somehow precious and ought to be preserved suggests that we humans think we are awfully special, and in the end I believe it us unsustainable. If we are going to leave every smoke stain, where does it end? We leave in every carbide dump, every old mattress frame? Pretty soon what we have is a monument to humankind and not a geologic wonder. And does this stop at the cave entrance? This is not a cave-only issue. By this line of thinking every old building is worth preserving, every Berkely Pit is a historic site, and historicity trumps all competing values, such as conservation of nature. Frankly, at the rate we humans consume and build things, we will run out of room to live in. We'll live in a masoleum of our past, and a lot of it will be things we don't value or don't even remember what they are for.

Show me a cave with Abraham Lincoln's signature, and I will wholeheartedly agree - don't sandblast it. But the traces of some drunk kid - or the traces I leave behind - are not precious and valuable. In most cases, I believe the minor damage that can be caused by clean-up is more than outweighed by the further damage prevented by removing the "feel free to trash this place" message sent by graffiti and junk.
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Postby JoeyS » Aug 24, 2006 11:34 am

Eve wrote:Conservation vs. preservation ... we can't always do both. The argument that every human trace is somehow precious and ought to be preserved suggests that we humans think we are awfully special, and in the end I believe it us unsustainable. If we are going to leave every smoke stain, where does it end? .


Uhhuh.. I don't really get why some graffiti is considered "historical" while modern day spraypaint sigs are considered bad. I mean, the guy who explored so and so cave a put his name in the wall with a carbide lamp back in 1920 is worthy of preservation whereas someone who did the same thing in 1980 with a can of orange Krylon is bad? What is the difference? None of it is of any significance to me because it's all just plain old defacement. I mean, what histotrical date is the cut off for good graffitti? 1940? 1950? 1960?
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Postby graveleye » Aug 24, 2006 12:32 pm

JoeyS wrote:I mean, the guy who explored so and so cave a put his name in the wall with a carbide lamp back in 1920 is worthy of preservation whereas someone who did the same thing in 1980 with a can of orange Krylon is bad? What is the difference? None of it is of any significance to me because it's all just plain old defacement. I mean, what histotrical date is the cut off for good graffitti? 1940? 1950? 1960?


you have to admit, a smoke signature from 100 years ago is not quite as ugly as spray paint. I mean really, I'd rather see a bunch of old-time candle writings on the ceiling than a bunch of day-glo spray paint. You have to admit that a bunch of kids beering it up in a cave and spraypainting the place up, breaking formations and doing what-not comes from a different mindset than the 1865 explorer who signed his name to say 'I was here'. I feel like a lot of the cave vandalism comes from as much meaness as it does ignorance. Anyone agree?

Cave "vandalism" has been around as long as there have been caves. Seems like folks are naturally inclined to mark their environment up. Folks have been breaking formations and trashing caves since the beginning of history. The difference is that now, we should know better, and educate those who dont know better.

Slap me down if I am wrong, and I am probably contradicting my own better judgment, but I would take a sandblaster to White River Cave in Georgia in a heartbeat, then gate it up and lock it up like Fort Knoxx. There's nothing left in there that a sandblaster is going to hurt imho. All the formations are long gone. The first room in that cave is COMPLETELY covered in spraypaint. This is the old fogey in me, but the kids who do this to that cave are up to no-good and have no business being in there anyway. I guess I keep bringing up that cave because it just blew my mind what I saw in there.
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Postby Eve » Aug 27, 2006 9:01 pm

Joey, I'm not sure what the cutoff is, and part of me says, OK, none of it is worth saving. Then again caves have been used for a lot of purposes in a lot of cultures and in some cases are valuable archeological resources. (Try telling an archeologist that prehistoric cave paintings should be sandblasted!) I think the answer is the uncomfortable one that it depends on our judgment of a lot of factors. I don't like blanket answers like "save it all" or "destroy it all," but when we say "it depends" it opens it up for reasonable people to genuinely disagree with each other.
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