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One of the 2,000 images depicted at the Foxtrot petroglyph site aboard the Combat Center. The images are estimated to be as old as 10,000 to 12,000 years.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Sarah Anderson

Combat Center petroglyphs to be restored

21 Jan 2011 | Lance Cpl. Sarah Anderson

One of the Combat Center’s treasured historical sites is under restoration by the Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Office.

The Native American tribes who inhabited the land the Combat Center occupies today, left evidence behind, such as artifacts and rock art, also known as petroglyphs.

This rock art can be found in multiple areas aboard the Combat Center, but the Foxtrot site, which contains the most petroglyphs, is listed on the National Register of Historical Places and is protected from destruction or development.

The site’s nearly 2,000 petroglyphs are estimated to date back as far as 10,000 to 12,000 years and can be found within 63 panels on 50 rocks.

The area’s Native Americans that assumed responsibility for the majority of the rock art are the Serrano, Chemehuevi, Cahuilla and Mohave tribes, all highly mobile groups of people.

The installation’s NREA recognized the value the mysterious rock art holds for the history of the region. The area is now restricted to prevent vandalism, and the NREA has begun projects to restore the historic site.

In the past, workers would paint over defacements in the rock to hide modern markings, said Dr. Marie Cottrell, the natural and cultural resourses officer at the NREA.

As time passed, the paint oxidized and faded in color. Fortunately, technology improved, and new paint was developed that lasts longer and protects the rock, said Claire Dean, a conservator with Dean and Associates Conservation Services. In order to apply the new coat of paint, the old paint needs to be removed, which could damage the rock if not done correctly, Dean said.

“We now use laser technology to remove the paint,” she said. “It is like a laser paint chisel, except its not physically scraping off the paint, it is ablating [vaporizing] the paint.”

The laser technology was originally used for industrial cleaning, but conservators adopted the idea for dealing with delicate and historical surfaces such as the Foxtrot site.

“It works with the same principle as removing a tattoo, except it is a more delicate and complicated process,” Dean said.

With a mission to protect the area’s natural environment, the NREA is constantly studying ways to conserve the rocks not only from passing visitors, but also from the harsh desert weather.

According to archeologists, the biggest threat to the petroglyphs is vandalism. The NREA encourages passers-bye to enjoy the history and culture of the Combat Center’s 1,895 historical sites and 11 petroglyphs sites, but not to touch them.

Anyone interested in learning about the archeological finds aboard the installation can call the Archeology and Paleontology Curration Center at 830-1196.


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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms