Leaving a Mark

9:38 p.m. on July 10, 2018 (EDT)
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We've become incensed at some of the recent news stories of idiots in our national parks and other natural places painting their names, carving their initials, stacking up piles of stones, flying their drones, or in some other way making sure that the rest of us won't experience the place in its pristine beauty. 

We're happy to read that a few of them have been caught and punished severely--although not severely enough for our tastes. We were mollified a bit by reading Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad, a story about his travels through Europe and the Middle East with a group of American tourists soon after the Civil War.  And he noted the same problem then.  In fact, many in his party were prone to not only carve their initials in the ruins, but also break off a bit of stone to take home...     

"One might swear that all the John Smiths and George Wilkinsons, and all      the other pitiful nobodies between Kingdom Come and Baalbec would inscribe      their poor little names upon the walls of Baalbec’s magnificent ruins, and      would add the town, the county and the State they came from—and      swearing thus, be infallibly correct. It is a pity some great ruin does      not fall in and flatten out some of these reptiles, and scare their kind      out of ever giving their names to fame upon any walls or monuments again,      forever."

Reptiles.  We're going to borrow that...

11:39 p.m. on July 10, 2018 (EDT)
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The irony is we decry contemporary graffiti as "environmental blight", yet zealously guard and cherish ancient graffiti, labeling it "cultural treasure." 

Graffiti has always been part of our nature.  Animals scent mark -  likewise some among us are compelled to leave their own mark for similar reasons.  All of those summit resisters one finds atop Sierra peaks are a refined format for those so motivated to place their own mark "for the record."  Everywhere I have traveled I see it, people leaving their mark.   It seems something that most cultures practice in varying degrees in one form or another.  

I am not passing judgement on the topic. I have my own aesthetics, and do not appreciate defacing nature or property I do not own.  So I guess I tolerate the summit logs, even though I think their mere presence degrades the pristine nature of the location.  But I also confront the contradictory nature of our logic regarding how we view ancient and modern graffiti - and summit logs - and struggle with the realization our positions on the topic are very subjective.

Ed

8:36 a.m. on July 11, 2018 (EDT)
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Funny, I happened to camp with a law enforcement backcountry ranger (Ridge Runner) in the GSMNP last weekend and he was looking for a guy that was carving a big logo in all the shelters as he was passing through the park. The really funny part is that dude was also writing long journal entries in the shelter logs with lots of info about his plans. They should have no problem tracking him down. 

3:28 p.m. on July 11, 2018 (EDT)
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Patman, that sounds like Daniel Suelo, who wrote the book "The man who lived without money". He lived in that area for many years.

9:42 p.m. on July 11, 2018 (EDT)
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Some more good thoughts be whomeworry. 

Petroglyphs and pictographs are just really old grafitti. 

9:46 a.m. on July 12, 2018 (EDT)
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Maybe there is something to the fact that summit logs track who arrived first....not those who have come decades later, and decided that a summit log isn't mark enough, now we have to stack stones and scrawl names?

5:58 p.m. on July 12, 2018 (EDT)
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balzaccom said:

Maybe there is something ...

Paul, as you allude who cares?  Most of us could care less who was first to the top, what gives that person or "special" groups thus concerned the right to leave a mark?  (Answer: the fraternity of those who think it is important).  In some cases it is the AAC, Sierra Club and other mission driven organizations; in other cases it is a sovereign nation, MS13 and Crips, and other "tribal" affiliations.  In many cases it is just some lone Joe making noise for himself.  If Apollo 13 left all of their trash, equipment, and flag in a national park, they'd be littering.  Special entitlement. We may think those who walked the moon deserve to leave their mark, but what does the rest of the universe think?  The justification behind leaving a mark is always subjective.  It doesn't mater if we are talking about planting a flag, registering a milestone with the AAC, posting an entry to a summit log or guest list, building a frigging cairn, or tagging your mark on a tree, rock or building - even leaving a hickey - all are motivated by the urge to let others know "I was here" or "I own this".   That is how humans mark their world.  (I guess it beats peeing and crapping on everything...)

Ed

6:52 p.m. on July 12, 2018 (EDT)
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If any of you truly think petroglyphs and pictographs are just really old graffiti, then you should get out more. Some of them obviously took weeks or months to create. Do you liken infantile fingerpainting with works in the Louvre? These were not made by delinquents with spray paint in seconds or minutes.

We have “discovered” some great hunting scenes with atlatl darts that were obviously treasured. We’ve viewed creation/migration scenes that are stunning tales across the millennia, holy figures, crooked staffs, ducks on heads, valued dogs, concubines, amazing geometric patterns, scorpions, cranes, possessed snakes, conjurers, kokopelies before the bent backs, goddesses and deities, trophy heads held out, shields and weaponry. Much, much more with no footprints beneath them. Most are between 1100 to more than 3000 years old and they have important stories to convey if you can listen. Some can’t for sad reasons and that’s one reason not to unveil them. Some of them come with significant artifacts so that’s another reason.

Doesn’t matter much. Most people go where they are told. That is where you find the mark.

“my ear is pressed up against the past as if to the wall of a house that no longer exists” – Richard Brautigan

10:07 a.m. on July 13, 2018 (EDT)
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Take it easy ghostdog.  I have worked a lot with archaeologists in my career.  I am not slighting the art work left by those that came before.  It is an important part of the record along with lithics, ceramics and fire cracked rock and bones. I am pointing out that humans have a penchant for leaving evidence of their passing.  Register Cliffs on the Oregon Trail is maybe a better example of old grafitti that we now deem as being historically important.

12:35 p.m. on July 13, 2018 (EDT)
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@ghostdog: I think you bring up a great point. Perhaps, were we to not demonize those who choose to leave their mark, we might well have rememberences on par with the marks of our ancestors.

5:36 p.m. on July 13, 2018 (EDT)
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Thanks for clarifying. I’ve seen lots scribing in the Register cliffs ilk. Even as old as it is I don’t care for any killroys were here in proximity to the ancient renderings but have seen a long beautiful tribute inscribed all away by itself in amazing chiseled serif font to some guy named Frank so named it Frank’s rock as a landmark. It was worn and eroded.

However there is one Barrier style, 3000 year plus panel that has several tall faded reddish figures with feet like roots and a crown of dots. Between them are snakes striking at each figure in a different hue and less faded, two of them super imposed over one of the figures. One of the snake’s jaws are wide open. In between them is some kind of pointillism with three wriggling tails protruding out the bottom. The snakes and the other thing are done later but still archaic enough to have weather and time degradation. Maybe one shaman to another from different times?

As far as registers, I like to look for old tobacco can claim markers but the oldest surviving papers I’ve found are early 1950s (uranium claim) and those were wet with rusting holes in a tin can that once may have originally held beans. I packed it back as was but nothing is permanent.

8:29 a.m. on July 14, 2018 (EDT)
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I am going to have some fun here, so don't anyone take me too seriously.

Vince alludes to part of what I am trying to point out, that we are very subjective in our POV on this topic. For example a contemporary leaving handprint stains on a rock would be defacing it, while an ancient handprint stain is a treasure.  And the remarks about the craftsmanship and time spent do not carry water.   Note the following examples:


Art-05-fingerpainting.jpg

Preschool handprints (above), crisp and well executed.


Art-06-Lascaux-Caverns-handprints.jpg

Ancient handprints

Neither example of these handprints has anything over the other, as far as skill or time to produce goes, and at least for me they are equally evocative – who were the owners of these hands?

There was a comment about a standard (museum quality) to equate skill and craftsmanship with qualifying works worthy of being called cultural treasure.  But as the three following examples illustrate most of us cannot explain why certain works get that distinction while others remain in obscurity.

Art-09-Joan-Miro-Bleu-II.jpg

Joan Miro is a world reknown artist.  Bleu II (above) is consider one of Miro’s finest works.  I get it, I am a well-schooled artist and painter of some success, but I doubt most people are impressed.


Art-08-Mulberry-Tree-Van-Gogh.jpg

Van Gogh's Mulberry Tree (above) is among my most favorite works of art.  This piece is appreciated by even those who consider Norman Rockwell the only modern artist they like.

Art-07-Kindergarten-Tree.jpg
And (above) this is a kindergartner's rendition of a tree.  I see a lot in common between Van Gough’s tree and this Kindergartner's effort.  But I doubt the child's efforts will ever see the walls of a serious art exhibition.


frame-03.jpgAnd this is one of my own recent works: Portrait of a Cholita.  It was sold at auction, the proceeds of which paid for the college education of the grandaughter of the Qethcuan subject. The Inka Museum of Cuzco made the purchase and allegedly added it to their acquisitions.  So I'm in a museum, but not an art museum.  (Personally I think someone in the organization misappropriated the funds, and made off with the painting for their own collection, as it was a rather pricey item for any purpose it would serve in a museum dedicated to documenting the cultural heritage of the Inca people).  It seems one must die before the art elites consider ones work worthy of becoming part of a museum collection.

As the four examples, above, should imply, the notion of "museum" quality is a rather arbitrary, subjective litmus test, especially for the purpose of deciding what, if any contemporary art is worthy for placement on landscape features 

As for the ancient stuff, some of the artwork was well executed, but it’s of only limited scientific value, as it is very abstract, and the symbolism vague.


petroglyph-02.jpgThis petroglyph (above) is well executed and very aesthetic, but does not shed much light on the culture that executed it.  I highly doubt we would be enthused to see works of similar quality by one of our contemporaries carved into a favorite rock crag.

 

Art-08-Petroglyphs.jpgJoshua Tree petroglyphs (above). It is hard to discern the images of this relic.  If one tours enough sites, they’d come to realize most ancient rock art is like the Josh example, crude and opaque to insights about the people who created it.

In the end I think we cherish the ancient stuff more because academicians have told us it has scientific value; however, frequently they have trouble describing the scientific relevance of individual relics. That plus we just seem to think old is better in this context.  The litmus test of quality and effort don’t seem all that relevant.  These considerations are all fine and dandy, but they fail to get at the heart of the matter: why is Joe Sixpack’s rock art considered a defacing eyesore to the general public, no matter how well executed, while even the crudest of Fred Flintstone’s efforts are admired and considered worthy of an arduous journey to appreciate?

Ed

9:06 a.m. on July 14, 2018 (EDT)
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The basic problem is that in archaeology and in historic research, there is a point where scientific analysis ends and we can only speculate.  This is true when we deal with cultural meaning - the significance of the act to those who performed it.

Some ancient rock art undoubtedly is religiously significant, like solstice markers that have been observed in Chaco Canyon and other locales in the American Southwest;some most likely is aimless scribbling - only the original perps and their kin really know the difference.

Time heals all wounds and converts grafitti to treasure.  The Wetherill brothers, early explorers of Mesa Verde cliff dwellings, usually carved their initials and date into the bedrock of a cliff house when they entered it; this was one of the first things I looked for when I was working at Mesa Verde.   Years later,I stumbled across the name of a very prominent early American anthropologist(Ales Hrdliska) inscribed on Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly - just shows that everyone likes to leave their mark.

The fascination and frustration of archaeology is the inability to understand individual motivation.  I have been on digs where I would have exchanged all the artifacts we collected, all the dirt we screened, all the analytical time, for half an hour of time transport to be able to observe the site's daily activity and converse with its people.

9:54 a.m. on July 14, 2018 (EDT)
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I'd say the worst vandalism by far on our public lands are the roads chainsawed and bulldozed in to accommodate rolling tourism---like the National Park roads etc.  Leave No Trace?  Think again.

And of course Mt Rushmore is the worst graffiti ever.

10:33 a.m. on July 14, 2018 (EDT)
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Tipi Walter said:

I'd say the worst vandalism by far on our public lands are the roads chainsawed and bulldozed in to accommodate rolling tourism---like the National Park roads etc.  Leave No Trace?  Think again.

And of course Mt Rushmore is the worst graffiti ever.

 Naw - strip mines - now thar's leaving a mark.

Ed

12:37 p.m. on July 14, 2018 (EDT)
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In the end I think we cherish the ancient stuff more because academicians have told us it has scientific value”

 

I guess that’s one way you might look at it but it’s not my way. 

 

There is a great divide between record keeping, the telling a thrilling event from the all too common narcissistic vandalism we see today is my point. Some of the narcissistic blogs might even qualify!

Here in pre-European America there were no means other than rocks, stone tools and more naturally made paints to tell the story. That was their “Odyssey”. Homer had both written language and clay tablets. We have paper and LED screens, Now there is a site with many pit houses that dates Basketmaker II that took up paddle and anvil pottery long before others in the region, tempered it with sparkly selenium, but no adornment, utility only and no written language but many petroglyphs at the edges of the Mesa and many calved off and fallen below. Balancing precariously I got a good photograh of an amazing piece that will tumble soon. I have no idea what the creature is but the laborious work is stunning.

 Tipi’s example is another that I was previously alluding to earlier in a thinly veiled manner. 

3:01 p.m. on July 14, 2018 (EDT)
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ghostdog,

I think it is not merely about scientific value but also about context of what is left behind and the fact that people just really like old stuff.

Imagine if Theodore Roosevelt left his mark on a tree where, just after he shot an elk.......... where, he then just thought the idea of a national park system............ and that tree and mark was found today. Imagine the historical context and what an amazing find that would be. It would become a national treasure, and in fact not be really that old in the history of time and man.

Now fast forward to 2018.................Imagine if Brian left his mark on a tree after he just shot an elk.

While the tree that Teddy defaced would become a shrine for many a hunter and outdoorsperson, Brian's defaced tree would be evidence in his criminal proceedings for not only defacing the wild..........a national/federal, state park system but also in the felony case against the fact that he pouched an elk out of season.   Really what's the difference except 150 years give or take.

Also imagine if you came upon a old miners camp, and the old trash dump behind it, how interesting that would be........what treasures might be found. Is that any different than if you came up to the trash dump where a bunch of teenagers just got done having a kegger/rave?  Some would say yes, probably most.........and some would say no. In the end it's just a bunch of humans trashing the place.

Context, much of it is merely context.

3:47 p.m. on July 14, 2018 (EDT)
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Context, much of it is merely context.”

 

Very true! You make a good point. 

 

I do think there are various things being discussed here and I’m more on the archaic petroglyphs/pictographs vs graffiti. Some may gain virtual experience from google thumbnails but unexpectedly coming upon a masterpiece from across the millennia, standing right in front of it,  gives me an  eerie jolt.I don’t understand most of it but one can see their style of dress, adornments and headdre at times with other cultural items we never could have known. Some of the beings are very mysterious. 

 

However there are those that are childish scribbling but it is just too simple to put everything in that categor.

10:33 p.m. on July 14, 2018 (EDT)
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So we all obviously appreciate the old and pretty stuff for its looks, and understand that even the not so pretty stuff sometimes tells a lot about the culture that left the mark.  But Vince and Apeman ask good questions:  Why do we roundly scorn our contemporaries marking up the outdoors, no matter how well crafted, no matter what story they share? 

In fact the smaller artistic creations produced by Burning Man participants often have striking resemblance to ancient petroglyphs.  And there ar a few locations in Joshua Tree where some folks chose to etch modern petroglyphs into stone.  The casual observer would not know which was which

So if you were shown photos of various petroglyphs, asked to select ones you liked, and later found out some in your list were actually modern creations, would it bother you if you found out they were located on public lands? 

Would it bother you if you stumbled upon such works, and later discovered they are recent creations?  Explain.  As for me I am both amused and put off by these modern marks.  As for spray paint - do that in your own neighborhood, homie.

Ed

7:47 p.m. on July 15, 2018 (EDT)
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I’m not sure what more to add to previous clarifications. Maybe you are simply after some coffee house chatter but I’ve practiced my typing skills on this little iPad sufficiently with this topic. You are not the only one who equates ancient petroglyphs/ pictographs to graffiti in these times nor are you the first to compare the ancient past to the current era with whimsical theory. I guess not all of us are on the same page or a similar mindset.

I did come across a strange depiction finely wrought with stone material the size of bee-bees or smaller, some larger that could not have been more than a few years old. It was so far back in a desolate wilderness area that it took some work just to get there, no trails and a maze like quality to the terrain. It was a circle about 18” across divided into quadrants, each containing an anthropomorphic figure or stylistic creature. Wrapped around the outside about 1/3 of the circumference was an amazing lizard. It had two subtle tones and was placed on the north side of the circle. I’m pretty sure it was Navajo. No way it will last more than a few more years but I found it fascinating. It did not deface anything, didn’t say Kilroy was here or look at what a big fat slob I am. What I saw was a work of art that held actual meaning for someone.

I showed an image of it to a group of people and one woman said she would have kicked it apart. The rest of the group berated her severely. The site was not disclosed to anyone and the image shared had no horizon included so I could not be tracked. So opinions do vary for many reasons it seems. The bad thing is I’ve seen many horrible and senseless defacements, most of that next to beaten trails. We simply don’t all possess the same levels of consciousness.

8:19 p.m. on July 15, 2018 (EDT)
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Whomeworry...If you know Joshua Tree, you also know that some of the original pictographs were "enhanced" by a Hollywood film crew for their shoot...They are not much more striking than the originals.

And yes, it should be noted that some of the very graffiti that Twain was criticizing in his book is now of historic record---and preserved. 

 

On the other hand, the petroglyphs at Capitol Reef National Park all have bullet holes placed there by the early Mormon settlers, who thought it was great fun to shoot the Indians on the wall.  The bullet holes are also historically protected.  sigh

 

7:18 a.m. on July 16, 2018 (EDT)
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Ghostdog:

I do not have a stance per se on this topic.  I lament most marks in the wild left by moderns, and are intrigued by all marks left long ago.  My point was to examine the nooks and crannies of our POVs, and consider some of the paradoxes in our thoughts and unintended consequences of our doctrines.  I am trying to understand how we are roundly comfortable with contradictions in our doctrine.  Consider if the ancients were as rigid in their doctrine, regarding LNT, then the only traces we'd see today were the unavoidable ones (e.g. fire pits, middens, post holes, etc), and those made by ancient scofflaws ("outlaw rock taqgers"). Not that I think we are depriving the future a chance to ponder who came before them - we have covered the planet with marks of all kinds, they will be lucky to find an unsullied patch of land.

Ed 

9:00 a.m. on July 16, 2018 (EDT)
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Thankfully, there was no effective LNT operating in the past and we archaeologists are thankful for that, because most of what we study (to good effect, I might add)is garbage, pure and simple.

11:11 a.m. on July 16, 2018 (EDT)
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whomeworry said:

Ghostdog:

I do not have a stance per se on this topic.  I lament most marks in the wild left by moderns, and are intrigued by all marks left long ago.  My point was to examine the nooks and crannies of our POVs, and consider some of the paradoxes in our thoughts and unintended consequences of our doctrines.  I am trying to understand how we are roundly comfortable with contradictions in our doctrine.  Consider if the ancients were as rigid in their doctrine, regarding LNT, then the only traces we'd see today were the unavoidable ones (e.g. fire pits, middens, post holes, etc), and those made by ancient scofflaws ("outlaw rock taqgers"). Not that I think we are depriving the future a chance to ponder who came before them - we have covered the planet with marks of all kinds, they will be lucky to find an unsullied patch of land.

Ed 

 Ed

One point of reference should certainly be our increased population and the increased mobility of that population.  What may have been the marks left by a few people over thousands of years can now be impacted by literally thousands of people per DAY.  In marketing (my field) rarity always has a value.  When something becomes too easy or too available, it loses all value--and may ultimately become trash.  I think that applies to graffiti. 

6:26 p.m. on July 16, 2018 (EDT)
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hikermor said:

Thankfully, there was no effective LNT operating in the past and we archaeologists are thankful for that, because most of what we study (to good effect, I might add)is garbage, pure and simple.

 

I came across an eroding midden a few years back and made a stunning find of a dog fetish, white glazed with black geometric patterns over. There are thousands of other pieces too, atlatl points, stone knife blades and hide scrapers. I’ve been back to visit that dog twice now. Nearby I climbed a short, steep knoll and found myself standing n somebody’s house, the foundation of four walls at ground level now. The climb was scattered with a myriad of painted potsherds, incredible sharp and multi colored designs. When I saw a femur eroding from the “floor” I left that area, found another femur coming out of a nearby hill and several Mano/metates further on and more projectile points. It was a crossroads for trade 1100 years ago with earlier cultures based their too. There are some scattered beads and shell jewelry adornments as well. Never heard about this place from any source, just came upon it through wandering explorations.

I did no digging of any kind and respect ancient graves and Their possessions but I did take a lot of pictures.

4:27 a.m. on July 19, 2018 (EDT)
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Well i have never left a mark, the marks are in my brain or the pictures i take, why disturb natural beauty.

6:27 p.m. on July 30, 2018 (EDT)
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there are street artists who put meaningful thought and effort into their craft, and there are some places where graffiti is either legal or accepted. We visited a graffiti 'park' on a series of abandoned condo foundations in Austin, TX (which is eventually moving because someone who cares has purchased the land). no safety in authorship, artists skilled and otherwise are constantly covering up others' work. I wouldn't want to see this in the hills somewhere, but in the urban environment, it was pretty interesting.  https://www.mystatesman.com/news/local/exclusive-graffiti-park-move-carson-creek-ranch-moved-2019/ycsS9CdN3giTrX8h3iXrfI/ 

I would prefer that hikers leave the land and trees and shelters alone, and I don't and have never marked them up myself, but we're not talking about heavily policed areas. it's going to happen if someone wants to leave their trace, unfortunately.

The Great Sphinx in Egypt was vandalized at some point (lots of myths around this, but the nose has been missing for centuries), with at least one piece that I read claiming it was damaged in response to adverse weather conditions or a religious dispute of some kind. The same could be said for words and marks carved in some old redwoods and sequoias, some of which might be 150-200 years old, or the rock cairns that mark trails in many mountain ranges in the US (i'm most familiar with the Presidentials in NH). I guess my takeaway is that people have been expressing themselves in some form or another for thousands of years, and the way people do that today might not be as far from our past as we would like to think.  

10:07 p.m. on July 30, 2018 (EDT)
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I am biased on this topic, I am an African American man who was raised in one of the slums of San Francisco. To mark your something that belongs to you is find but, to mark something that doesn't belong to you is just plain wrong! If you want to "tag" something, earn the rights to the property then draw or paint on it. As for tagging in a park of any kind, I think is especially wrong for the park belongs to everyone, not to just a few people.
As for drawings on the walls of caves hundreds, these were done by primative people, in an effort to tell their story of their life and their people, not an effort to just say, "hey look at just me."

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