Lifestyle

Ancient petroglyphs disappearing

A seal petroglyph in East Sooke is eroding away. - Emma Prestwich
A seal petroglyph in East Sooke is eroding away.
— image credit: Emma Prestwich

The famous petroglyphs at East Sooke Park have been here for centuries, but they may not be for much longer, due to natural erosion caused by wind and water splashing up against the rock.

The petroglyphs, which are estimated to be between 200-3,000 years old, have slowly faded over the years, and now one of the designs, believed to be a small fish, is nearly indiscernible from the rock’s surface.

It’s impossible to preserve the designs by rubbing, a practice used by geologists where a ball of coloured wax is rubbed over a piece of fabric, because whoever made the design only skimmed the surface of the rock. The images are carved into sandstone, which has a rough crystal surface that collects dirt and is difficult to see. The creators bruised the surface using a hammer-rock to reveal the lighter crystal.

Some more modern images have also appeared over the years, further obscuring the images. Thinner, bolder scratchings of stick people, initials and numbers mark several of the rocks at Allridge Point.

Nancie Dohan, coordinator of environmental interpretation with CRD parks, said the petroglyphs are protected by Heritage B.C. and it’s illegal to touch them.

However, this hasn’t stopped vandals, and she also said CRD staff do regular patrols on the beaches.

Randy Chipps, from the Becher Bay First Nation, said legends tell him the giant seal creature carved into the rock is an elephant seal, which acted as a kind of ‘game-warden’ for the community. There may have been a mammal whisperer, he said, who enlisted the help of the seal to manage the community’s fish intake so they didn’t deplete local species. The seal would tell the mammal whisperer which species were in danger, and animal’s size would scare people away from over-fishing.

The nearly invisible design underneath the seal depicts the five types of sea life harvested by the people of Becher Bay, Chipps said.

“They’re markers signifying a nation,” he said.

He said while the marker of the seal no longer has any practical significance, he’s worried that the historical monument will disappear. But he’s not concerned about losing the stories he knows about his people, the oral histories that have been passed down through

“When you can no longer tell your story, you’re no longer alive.”

He concedes that nature will take its course and the images will eventually disappear. Dohan said since it’s illegal to tamper with the petroglyphs, she would never consider touching them up.

Dohan and her interpretive staff do regular tours of East Sooke Park and the petroglyphs during the summer. The next tour is July 23, a guided adult hike through the entire park. Meet at 10 a.m. at the kiosk in the Aylard Farm parking lot, off of Becher Bay Road.

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