Efforts are underway to repair vandalized native art at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in southeastern Alberta — an important endeavour that could determine the park's future as a world heritage site.


Jannie Loubser, a renowned expert on rock art remediation, works on reclaiming some of the aboriginal etchings at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

"It's a bit like plastic surgery," archeologist Jannie Loubser said about the painstaking work that requires hours and hours of scraping and drilling to restore the priceless pictographs and petroglyphs that go back hundreds of years.

Loubser is on a team of experts and volunteers in Writing-on-Stone looking to remove graffiti and repair the hundreds of vandalized etchings on the park's sandstone walls and hoodoos.

Much of the damage, done over time, is initials and other markings carved into the rocks.

Etchings a snapshot into a different time

Loubser says the park's rock art is some of the best on the continent, and it’s a shame it was damaged.

"We learn a lot about the art and what it meant it to the people — literally look into the minds of people that are long gone," he said.

Alberta Parks is overseeing the remediation, but according to provincial parks employee Aaron Domes, some of the art is beyond repair.

"There are definitely some panels where it’s very complex, where you might have significant rock art with a lot of vandalism scratched over top or in between ... and those are the most difficult for Jannie and his team to work on," he said.

Part of Writing-on-Stone's appeal is an interpretive centre set up to explain the ancient etchings.

Guided tours are also available to see the stone and hoodoo etchings first-hand, as they are now blocked off from park visitors for protection.