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Tuesday, 23 July, 2002, 14:21 GMT 15:21 UK
Future of cave paintings under debate
Park official inspects rock painting
The ancient cave paintings are extremely fragile
The fate of ancient Californian cave paintings is being debated as officials try to balance the conflicting demands of preservation and public access.

The paintings, called pictographs because they are made up of symbols, are located about 50 miles (81 kilometers) east of San Francisco.

We would love to open this area up so we could tell schoolchildren at an early age about history

Tom Mikkelsen, East Bay Regional Park District

The faint etchings were inscribed by the American Indian tribes who performed ceremonies on the sacred site about 1,500 years ago.

The pictures have begun to flake as water seeps in, but images of animal and birdlike figures can still be seen.

The shallow caves were located on private land until it was finally sold to the parks district.


It's extremely fragile, that's the problem

Jeff Fentress, anthropologist
"We would love to open this area up so we could tell schoolchildren at an early age about history," said Tom Mikkelsen, assistant general manager of the East Bay Regional Park District.

But officials must first find a way of addressing the concerns of California Indians, who consider the site sacred.

Damage control

They also have to find a way to prevent tourists from damaging the paintings.

"It's extremely fragile, that's the problem," said Jeff Fentress, an anthropologist who has studied the cave drawings.

A bill now pending in the state Assembly would help protect the caves.

Cave paintings
The pictographs show bird and animal-like shapes
The legislation would block approval of projects that have an adverse affect on such sites unless tribal officials accepted mitigation measures, such as making the caves public but barring access during periods deemed particularly sacred.

"For native people, these weren't casual use places," said Bev Ortiz, an ethnographic consultant.

"They weren't places that everyday people went to."

See also:

09 Aug 00 | Science/Nature
22 Apr 99 | Science/Nature
22 Feb 00 | Science/Nature
08 Apr 99 | Science/Nature
16 Oct 00 | Science/Nature
03 Oct 01 | Science/Nature
22 Oct 99 | Science/Nature
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