|Most human damage is not deliberate and can therefore be eradicated through well-directed education programs. In this sense the general public is more amenable to improvements than rock art students. In the area of rock art tourism such programs have been very successful in various continents.
The behaviour of rock art site visitors has been extensively studied in Australia, particularly through the work of Gale (1985). Children, organised tour groups and local visitors were identified as categories of high-risk visitors at publicly accessible sites, but it was also found that simple measures, such as signs, were most effective in modifying visitor behaviour, especially in the high-risk groups (Gale and Jacobs 1986, 1987). The results of Gale’s studies have become the basis of Australia’s national strategies of rock art site management, and have also been an influence in designing such policies elsewhere. Rock art sites have become prime destinations for tourism, particularly ‘cultural tourism’, in many parts of the world. Sites or groups of sites attracting in excess of 100 000 annual visitors occur in France, Italy and Australia. It is therefore essential that sound management policies be designed and adhered to. The underlying philosophy is simple: all visitation contributes to the deterioration of a site, but the site manager is usually required to make some sites available for visitation. Many major rock art corpora are on public land, and if sites are not available for visitation, the public will seek alternative means of access. Since it is preferable that access be under controlled conditions, a few representative, easily accessible sites are ideally selected from a major art body, and ‘sacrificed’ to the public after they are carefully developed. A classical example is Kakadu National Park, where perhaps in the order of 5000 rock art sites exist. Of these, three sites were selected and developed with extensive walkways and interpretation signs. They are the only sites available for visitation in this National Park.
It is appropriate to consider measures of visitor control by first describing Australian experiences, because the practices developed there are widely considered as exemplary and they are being adopted in other parts of the world, or adapted to the conditions there. Quite a number of such measures have been utilised at Australian rock art sites. The most frequent are board-walks of steel or timber, often with elevated viewing platforms. They are designed to keep the visitors away from the art, while permitting a close-up view of it, and they prevent damage to the archaeological floor deposit. The erosion of floor sediments and the development of dust are often also controlled by floor covering in rockshelters, such as mats, gravel or wooden floor boards (Walsh 1991). Board-walks need to be designed to blend with their particular setting, they need to meet several technical criteria (e.g. weight loadings) and they should permit a good flow of visitors, hence there must be no dead-ends in the layout. Of particular value are lectern-like signs, placed along the handrail facing the rock art panel and explaining aspects of the site. Visitor books have been found to be effective, and the Australian experience has shown that the visitor needs to be told what not to do, and is generally quite willing to comply with such directions. The fact that heavy fines apply in Australia to any form of interference with the rock art is without doubt a major deterrent, and it has also a second effect: it provides the visitor with a readily understood measure of significance. Nothing can ever be as effective in preventing damage to art from tourism than a simple sign stating that the prescribed penalty for touching the art is many thousands of dollars. However, signs also need to be positive in their messages, impressing on the visitors that the rock art is a major component of their cultural heritage. Importantly, they also need to inform visitors about the rock art. Signage at many Australian public sites is excellent and visitor orientated, offering adequate ethnographic, interpretational and environmental information.
This ‘educational’ approach is appropriate at very remote sites in the continent’s north, which involve considerable effort on the part of the visitor just to reach them. It is less suitable at easily reached sites in the vicinity of major population centres. A large number of unsupervised sites in Australia, especially in the more densely populated south-east of the continent, have been fully enclosed in steel cages. While there is general agreement that these structures are highly obtrusive, it is equally true that they are most effective. There have been calls for their removal but they remain in use and have in some cases been replaced recently with better constructed cages. In the case of the particularly vulnerable limestone cave sites, the preferred policy is to close the caves so that they can be visited only under supervision. A number of considerably less drastic measures have been tested and in some cases employed in visitor control. These include the placing of ‘psychological barriers’, which may be low fences, artificial rock ledges or some strategically placed prickly bushes. The effectiveness of such ‘passive access-restricting measures’ depends on local circumstances, particularly site topography. Bearing in mind that it takes only one visitor with a can of spray paint to ruin a site, these measures cannot prevent blatant vandalism. They can be very effective, however, at some types of sites, as examples from Bolivia demonstrate. Omar Claure, Leo Ticlla and particularly Fernando Huaranca (1995) have developed access restriction to a fine art, by such measures as concealing or removing footholds on cliff sites and by strate-gically placed plants. These low-interference, cost-effective, environmentally sound and innovative approaches to rock art conservation are admirable applications of modern conservation philosophy.
|REFERENCES –Bibliography of Rock Art Conservation