Ancient paintings on the walls of the Anzota Caves in Chile have reportedly been “irreparably damaged” by vandals.
The Cuevas de Anzota, south of the city of Arica, is a cave system that was used by the indigenous Tiwanaku people in pre-Columbian times.
Images of animals and boats lining the caves are thought to have been painted around 1,400 years ago.
But vandals have obscured the ancient work with brightly coloured graffiti, prompting a backlash against tourists and criticism of authorities.
As part of efforts to attract visitors to the area, the Chilean government recently restored a path to the caves that was originally built in the 1960s.
A poster outside the cave warns of an “archaeological site preserved for future study and enhancement” in Spanish. It is unclear what measures were in place to protect the site.
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Singer Felipe Sandoval raised the profile of the incident by posting photographs of the cave walls.
“Outrageous. The cave paintings of camelids, belonging to the Tiwanaku culture in the caves of Anzota, Arica … were striped with spray paint. Irreparable damage to our heritage,” he said.
Marcela Sepúlveda, an archaeologist at the University of Tarapaca, confirmed to Spanish daily El Pais that the damage was irreversible.
“Any intervention to clean it will also affect the panel,” she said.