Graffiti in Lava Tubes

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Re: Graffiti Removal?

Postby JD » Sep 2, 2010 10:59 am

Arrogant? Maybe so. I prefer passionate and somewhat knowledgable about this one topic, but if the shoe fits...I've been called far worse,

Everyone is entitled to an opinion about graffiti removal, but not their own facts. Three facts are as follows:

1) Recent Cave "clean-ups" have destroyed very important prehistoric dark zone art in caves (Simek & Cressler, 2008)
2) Recent Cave "clean-ups" have destroyed very important historic resources in caves. (Pers. Comm. Marion Smith, 2010)
3) We do not know what cultural resources have been lost in many cave "clean-ups" because the sites were not properly
studied or documented before the activity took place.

This is not a new issue, and myself and my colleagues at the University of Tennessee Cave Archaeology Research Team (CART) have been "agitating" on it for so many years now that I tend to think that anyone still removing graffiti from a cave is either 1) a novice caver 2) willfully ignorant 3) so self righteous that they are going to do it no matter what anyone else thinks (you could call this the Keeler approach), which I consider little better than the deliberate vandalism they are trying to stop. But maybe there are concerned cavers who really want to know more about the issue, so I'll try to be a little more explicit.

The most important recent work on the topic is "Why Caves Should Not Be Cleaned," by Jan F. Simek and Alan Cressler (both of Cart), NSS News, November 2008, pp. 8-12. Recent workshops and discussions on the topic include The SERA Conservation Task Force Workshop at the June 2010 SERA Cave Carnival and the ICS/NSS Archaeology Session in Texas, August 2009.

Below is an article on the issue from a few years ago, though I made a few changes. It does mention some additional sources of information on the topic. Dave will probably recognize part of it .


Graffiti in Caves and Why it Should Not be Removed

Joseph Douglas
NSS 20059 (PH, F)

I feel that I should respond to the ongoing debate about the many graffiti removal projects cavers are engaged in, especially in light of some of the rationales and methods presented in a variety of forums, ranging from the NSS Conservation home page to the Conservation issues of the NSS News While many of you know my thoughts and concerns on this, perhaps others do not. I hope some will think anew about this issue. This is not a new debate, as it has appeared in previous issues of the NSS News and the old Cavers Digest. The issue is more pressing than ever though, because the incidents of damage to irreplaceable resources in caves from misguided restorationists appear to be growing.

I would first ask you all to be aware that removing graffiti in caves is extremely controversial. While many restorationists and others do it, including our most prominent conservationists and land managers, many others, especially preservationists and researchers, strongly recommend against it. The trend in cave preservation in the southeastern U.S., for example, is now towards not removing graffiti, even spray-paint. Removing graffiti does nothing to preserve the biologic or geologic components of a cave. It is an activity based entirely on restoring the aesthetics of a cave. Elsewhere I have argued that I do not believe aesthetics alone should drive cave conservation (See “Conservation, Preservation, and the Caver Community,” NSS News, February/March 1996, pp. 51-52). This is especially true for the question of removing graffiti, because the activity is so detrimental to historic preservation in caves.

I personally think that graffiti should not be removed at all, but if you are determined to do so here are some suggestions: 1) Remove nothing until a qualified archaeologist or historian experienced in historic preservation in caves views the site and assesses the graffiti. 2) All graffiti, even recent material, should be recorded before any action is taken. That includes recording information about the style, medium, and content of the material. 3) If you still are going to do it, you must secure approval from the cave owner - in most states it is a violation of cave protection laws to "disturb" the cave walls and ceiling without explicit (sometimes written) permission. Check the law in your state. In some states (like Alabama) it is illegal to remove graffiti, period. On Federal land any graffiti removal is a violation of the FCRPA of 1988 unless the project has explicit approval from the Secretary of Agriculture or Interior (not just some NPS Superintendent or USFS/BLM District Manager) 4) If you meet all the other criteria, remove it using methods that do no harm to the cave walls. Some of the methods described in NSS News articles, and papers at annual conventions, are totally unacceptable. Wire brushes, sand-blasting, and use of high-pressure water damage the walls and lead to more rapid erosion of the host rock. For the best discussion of methodological problems see Ken Follett, "Graffiti Control and Removal: Lessons from an Urban Setting," American Caves (Winter 1999):9-15. Jim Goodbar's paper "The Writing Is on the Wall: So How Do We Get it Off?" found on the NSS Website, is also useful, though it underplays the potential damage from the activity.

If one tries to follows the suggestions above, they'll find out that for suggestion #1 there are very few people in the U.S. trained and qualified to determine if graffiti should be removed. And they almost always recommend against it.

What is wrong with removing graffiti, you may ask, since it makes the cave look better? In addition to damage to the host rock and associated features, there is another compelling reason. You see, the prehistory and history of the cave is written on the walls too. There are numerous horror stories of well-meaning restorationists unintentionally damaging or destroying important cultural resources by their actions. (See David A. Hubbard, "Cave Conservation and Cave Clean-ups: Not Always One in the Same," NSS News (February 1995):31.) I have seen too many examples of this in my own research underground. Under that spray-paint there may well be historic graffiti from the 1700s to the 1900s. Under that historic graffiti there may well be American Indian glyphs or artwork from the time of Columbus, or perhaps two thousand years before. These are very hard to see or identify and require expert analysis. Some are smaller than my thumbnail. Some just look like doodles to the untrained eye. Even torch marks on the walls are important sources and can tell us about prehistoric and historic visitation. To most cavers they just look like carbon smudges.

In general, people interested in historic preservation in caves believe that the first rule is "do no harm." The removal of graffiti is way too risky. The threat of damage to irreplaceable resources is way too large. Yes, graffiti is ugly, we wish it were not there, and we should work hard to prevent it in the future, but removing it is not worth it. There are dozens of caves now known with deep cave prehistoric art. It has been found in Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas, Kentucky, Florida, Missouri, New Mexico, Wisconsin, and others. There is important historic graffiti known, but not yet recorded or studied, from thousands of U.S. caves. One of my own interests is in identifying names/dates/wall markings from the Civil War in southern caves. There are dozens of caves with these, as we are just now discovering. These resources are irreplaceable windows into the history of the cave. Yet they are very vulnerable to the zealous restorationist. So remove the broken glass and contemporary trash, make a single file trail, clean the speleothems, place a register for people to sign, educate the public, and if the cave's resources warrant it, gate it. But please be careful about the graffiti. Aesthetic restoration should not be privileged over historic preservation.

We generally do not believe that cavers can easily determine which biologic and geologic resources are important in caves and then recommend that they remove or destroy the "unimportant" ones. Instead we rely on experts in biology and geology. Why should cultural resources be different? But that seems to be what we are doing with these resources. Despite William R. Halliday's call for the NSS to adopt a policy for historic preservation in caves over fifteen years ago, we still do not have one. Thus right now many well-meaning cavers are going into caves and removing graffiti in an effort to "do good," inadvertently harming the resources within.

We might like to try to recreate a "pristine" cave environment without a trace of humans, but with the rare exception, people are both a part of nature and a part of the story of American caves. It reminds me of the early National Parks movement. People wanted to preserve parks as pristine environments, yet it turned out that the environment was not pristine at all but modified by people in many ways. But NPS wanted it to "look" right. So native and local peoples were moved out, traces of the human past were expunged, "bad" animals were extirpated, and we called it "wilderness," a cultural construct if ever there was one. Yet the environment itself was an artifact. So it is with most of our caves.

We cavers seem to be where the National Parks movement was prior to the 1930s, focusing primarily on aesthetics rather than on preserving biological diversity, geologic processes, and cultural resources. I'm all in favor of minimizing impacts in caves and preserving what we have. But exactly what are we restoring and what is the cost?
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Re: Graffiti in Lava Tubes

Postby graveleye » Sep 2, 2010 1:30 pm

1) a novice caver 2) willfully ignorant 3) so self righteous that they are going to do it no matter what anyone else thinks (you could call this the Keeler approach), which I consider little better than the deliberate vandalism they are trying to stop.


That's quite a statement. No offense, but some of us unwashed have learned to expect such broad, sweeping statements from the lofty spires of academia. In my younger days, I might have been offended. But I will tell you this, you should care about seeming arrogant because you won't get much respect with your own self righteous attitude.

I've been in on an ongoing cleanup of a heavily vandalized cave here in Georgia, and I will have to disagree with you to an extent. 1st off, this particular cave is privately owned and the owner wants the spray paint off it's walls. It's his cave after all. However, he has had noted experts (caving, historians, archeologists, paleontologists) come in and inspect for anything of historical significance. To date, none has been found outright, but areas suspected of possible historical etchings and so forth were pointed out, and we left them alone. Other areas found clear of anything historical are fair game. In the meantime, further evaluation of these suspect areas will occur and if found to not have anything historic or prehistoric, then they will be cleaned too.

One thing you have failed to recognize is that graffiti invites more graffiti. Leaving it in there only invites more. Even if the cave is gated, they will attempt to rip the gate right out to get in and write their names and obscenities on the walls. Kudos to the welder if they're unsuccessful. So, ironically, the only way to prevent further vandalization of a cave is to slap a big ugly steel cage in the entrance. Perhaps this is a preferred method of scientists and cave experts. This way you can keep out the spelunker vandals, and us idiot uneducated cavers. You can have the cave all to yourself then, hidden from the eyes of humanity until rust prevails.

In short, you can say that no cave should ever be cleaned of modern spray-paint graffiti but I disagree. It can be done on a case by case basis, especially with *expert guidance. There are plenty of instances where graffiti simply cannot and should not be removed. There are instances where it can be removed. But to take a stance of "graffiti should never be removed" is as absurd as "remove all graffiti where it's found".

*hopefully a humble expert
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Graffiti in Lava Tubes

Postby Ernie Coffman » Sep 2, 2010 3:21 pm

The authors of the responses to Andy's request are sharing their knowledge from one side to the other, but cleaning spray paint from lava tubes definitely is much more difficult than cleaning walls on a limestone or marble cave wall. All Andy was asking for was a suggestion, since the "boss" of where they work was asking them to do this chore. :doh: I can understand JD's point of view, but this spraypaint in these lava tubes isn't historical! Simple as that!

So, like Andy indicated, he'll check with those in California--SAG like NZ suggested--and maybe they'll try and get this chore accomplished. Graffiti is the pits, there's no other way of saying it. If the paint were black and carbide, I would understand JD's response, but knowing what lava tubes look like, we can only hope that they'll find a panacea for making the tube a little less crazy looking. :shrug: Go for it Andy! And, let us know how it works out. :cavingrocks:
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Re: Graffiti in Lava Tubes

Postby Ray Keeler » Sep 2, 2010 9:47 pm

Hi Bonny,

Good luck on the removal effort.

The removal of graffiti on basalt worked wonderfully on two caves in Idaho. When small, glass beads are used as the blast media, they do very well in removing spraypaint in pockets and hard to reach surfaces. As to any size constraints, the largest item is the hopper that holds the blast media when using a compressor on the surface. The hose issue to get pressure back to the damage site may be addressed with 1" fire hose used by forest fire fighting units.

We have found that sandblasting also works exceptionally well where rimstone has been spray painted. Wire brushing leaves marks. Since most spray paint has a lower number on the Mohs hardness scale than limestone (3), it comes off before the rock.

As to the other comments earlier in this thread as to graffiti removal, I feel that graffiti begats graffiti. Further, graffiti teaches new cavers that graffiti is OK. Thus, as a conservation measure, graffiti should be removed. As to the point that pre-historic graffiti should not be removed, I agree. However, the position that all graffiti removal via sandblasting is bad, shows a lack of willingness to understand the problem, and address the problem.

thanks,

Ray
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Re: Graffiti in Lava Tubes

Postby JD » Sep 3, 2010 1:39 pm

Actually Mr. Keeler I understand the question quite well, thank you. You want to "restore" the cave environment, I want to "preserve" its features. I just think the risk of damage to irreplaceable resources is too high, while you hope to prevent possible future graffiti by removing current graffiti, even if it damages other resources. A basic disagreement. I would rather have you lobby your legislature to, say, not allow sales of spray paint to minors, or educate your local communities. I do know that when my local Karst and Cave Conservation Task Force proposed a number of caves for possible graffiti removal here in TAG, EVERY ONE of the potential caves they suggested was a prehistoric archaeological site. If Marion Smith and Alan Cressler had not convinced them to stop, incredible damage would have occurred.

Regular cavers who are trained can identify these resources, with experience. But only a very few have asked for or received such training. I was talking to the new USFS Cave person last month, and she suggested her folks could easily reccognize any important marks on the wall, but that is not always true. While pictographs may be more visible than some other forms of cave art, the examples of them NOT being recognized as important is quite long, As for mud glyphs and petroglyphs, well, the most talented caver in the world at spotting such things, Alan Cressler, has clearly stated that if you can easily see them, they are fake, and the real ones can generally only be seen with oblique lighting techniques. I assume some of you you saw his presentation at SERA? I invite all who doubt this to come look at some of these sites with us.

For example, this summer a team was working in a cave which has been known to have prehistoric art (by cavers) since the 1950s, and studied by archaeologists since the early eighties. Over 500 indivual glyphs were already known, ranging from 15 feet long to 1/2 inch in size, smaller than my thumbnail. There have been numerous research trips here. So what happens? Dozens of new glyphs were discovered in areas already looked at, by experienced folks, right between two areas already recorded. The point is that even experienced eyes miss stuff and it oftens takes numerous trips to see the entire resource.

Graveleye, can you be more specific here? I would love to know which folks you consulted and what cave it is. Alan has perfomed evaluations like you mention, as have I, frankly, but if you ask him his personal opinion, he will say Do Not Remove it - Too Risky, as will Marion, as will Jan Simek, Annie Blankenship, Ktisten Bobo, Charles Faulkner, Patty Jo Watson, Paul Aughey, George Crothers, Carole Diaz-Granados, Brian and Lynn Roebuck, and Manuel Beers. These are people who have all discovered important cultural resources in caves and have lots of experience. I'm not sure who else there is, both trained and experienced in the cave environment. Did you see any stoke marks on the walls, rocks, or ceilings, as that is diagnostic for Native American exploration? A single example of patterned carbon smudges on the wall is an important clue to the history of the site. A single fragment of charcoal can give chronological data.
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Re: Graffiti in Lava Tubes

Postby JD » Sep 3, 2010 2:29 pm

Ernie, I am concerned with what may be under the spray paint. Caves walls are like palimsests, with many layers of graffiti. I have seen spray paint directly over a remarkable glyph of a rattlesnake in a cave, dated at around 1200 AD. It is a Mississippian cultural icon with special meaning to its creators. If you tried to remove the SP with anything other than the right tool, one fleck at a time, you would destroy this art treasure, which has global significance.

Just because the NPS wants to engage in a counterproductive activity doen't mean cavers have to abet it - we should use our expertise to protect the resources by educating the land managers. Remeber when the government of Mexico decided to remove all historic signatures after 1900 from Gruta Del Palmito and cavers did it? I considered that a travesty.

Generally speaking, destroying humanity's cultural heritage in caves, whether on purpose or inadverdently, is not "conservation," and protecting these resources should be as important as, say, protecting endangered species in caves.

Well, no doubt we'll discuss these issues again. Perhaps at the Gazebo in Colorado.
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Graffiti in Lava Tubes

Postby Ernie Coffman » Sep 3, 2010 3:17 pm

Gee whiz JD, I didn't think this was going to go on for so long, but knowing your expertise in the matter, I guess that's acceptable. You've indicated some great authorities in the matter and we appreciate that! At least, I do! As for the SP not being permitted to be sold to minors, I believe that's on the books in some states, but...needless to say, just like cigarettes for underage kids, they get 'em! :doh: Needless to say, the SP isn't just put on the walls by minors/teens/or whatever you want to call them. :rofl: Like they say, "It happens!"

What I'm trying to get across, JD, for you and for others out there, is that we're very much aware of the controversy and appreciate and want to save historical grafitti, but in most lava tubes, it's not historical! Again, your situation in TAG is different than out here in the west, with lava tubes. We do have historical grafitti in some of the tubes and we do want to save that, just as you do in TAG country. What Andy was referring to is typical junk grafitti and it's most difficult to get off because of the popcorn effect. It usually isn't on a clean, smooth wall, like limestone or marble. That's all this discussion has been about, I do believe; and, a few positive comments on a way to do it have been suggested.

I so appreciated the historical grafitti in Saltpeter Cave when we had the Howdy Party a few years ago, as an example, for to me this was something that went way back in time; and, to walk along where the hospital area was, etc. was mind-blowing. :woohoo: To be in Sewanee and see some of the historical graffiti around there was quite moving, also. But, IMO, there are few lava tubes out in the west--except for Idaho, probably--that have historical markings. If they are, like in Fern Cave, Lava Beds National Monument in California--you might have gone in there during the '90 Convention--then the differences can come up really quick. It's in burnt charcoal or carbide...and not in red, green, orange, purple, blue SP that stands out like a sore thumb.

Hopefully, you'll be a little more understanding on what we've been writing about, as you're definitely in the historical area of caving--besides the deep ones. :tonguecheek:
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Re: Graffiti in Lava Tubes

Postby graveleye » Sep 3, 2010 3:25 pm

JD wrote:Graveleye, can you be more specific here? I would love to know which folks you consulted and what cave it is. Alan has perfomed evaluations like you mention, as have I, frankly, but if you ask him his personal opinion, he will say Do Not Remove it - Too Risky, as will Marion, as will Jan Simek, Annie Blankenship, Ktisten Bobo, Charles Faulkner, Patty Jo Watson, Paul Aughey, George Crothers, Carole Diaz-Granados, Brian and Lynn Roebuck, and Manuel Beers. These are people who have all discovered important cultural resources in caves and have lots of experience. I'm not sure who else there is, both trained and experienced in the cave environment. Did you see any stoke marks on the walls, rocks, or ceilings, as that is diagnostic for Native American exploration? A single example of patterned carbon smudges on the wall is an important clue to the history of the site. A single fragment of charcoal can give chronological data.


Kristen Bobo was who put the gate on the cave and she's looked around in there. Alan Cressler was the last evaluation, and the other people were not people in the caving community and I would have to call the owner to throw down their names since I don't know them anyway. Alan was the one who suspects previous saltpeter mining in one area of the cave, and MO Smith will more than likely be called in next for that purpose. I've also looked extensively and have yet to find anything. While I am not a known expert on the subject, my work with the Kingston Saltpeter Cave and other caves has helped me develop quite an eye for spotting these things as well. In fact, I'm pretty good at it if I must say so myself. Neither myself, nor any of the others experts have noted stoke marks, or even the ubiquitous tally mark from saltpeter mining. There are some etched names from the early 1900s underneath about 10 layers of paint, confined to a small area. That will not be touched either.

You are correct in what you said Alan's response would be. He did, however, give the owner suggested parameters where cleanup would be safer, and pointed out areas that he felt would be too risky at present. But you're right, he wasn't thrilled about it. Who is? I'm not either. It sucks we have to even worry about it. I wish that spray paint had never been invented. Oddly enough, if the cave vandal had never been invented, we wouldn't be having this discussion. We wouldn't have Lascaux either.

We have not cleaned the graffiti from the KSC either for the same reasons. There is too much history underneath in some places. Thankfully, the graffiti there is sparse compared with this other cave, which is literally covered in it from the entrance to the bitter end. I really don't think many people have ever seen a cave with this much paint in it. While we were gating it, the locals were seething. They've tried to pull it down several times. Purpose: to apply more paint. The locals know it as "Spraypaint Cave".

Anyway, despite my own ability, if a prerequisite for having your name included in your list of experts is to be 100% against the removal of spray paint in all cases, I'll never make the list. I feel that, with proper assessment and several sets of trained eyes, paint can be safely removed if and only if there is nothing underneath. But like cave gating, this can't be viewed as black and white since there are many shades in between.
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Re: Graffiti in Lava Tubes

Postby graveleye » Sep 3, 2010 3:51 pm

Also, I apologize to Ernie and the others for assisting in the hijacking of this thread. We could start another thread to discuss the nuances of cave cleaning and restoration if anyone is interested.
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Re: Graffiti in Lava Tubes

Postby Anonymous_Coward » Sep 7, 2010 9:09 am

JD,

Thanks for the response and the references. Now we at least understand your perspective a little better. Also, with more explanatory background you seem less arrogant and more what I would call extremely passionate about cultural resources.

I have to agree with graveleye that I will never be on board with your fundamentalist view on graffiti removal. Absolute rules do not hold up well in caving, at least across different regions. I do however appreciate your viewpoint and look forward to that conversation in the Gazebo next year!
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