Dada Comes to the Inuit


Devoutly Muslim Afghans destroy great big Buddhas. Devoutly Christian Eskimos destroy ancient Dorset carvings:

Canada's only major Arctic petroglyph site—a 1,500-year-old gallery of mysterious faces carved into a soapstone ridge on a tiny island off of Quebec's northern coast—has been ransacked by vandals in what the region's top archeologist suspects was a religiously motivated attack by devout Christians from a nearby Inuit community.

For years, heritage advocates have sought special protection for the ancient etchings at Qajartalik Island, located about one hour by boat from the 500-resident village of Kangiqsujuaq. Experts believe they were created by the extinct Dorset culture, an artistically advanced civilization that occupied much of the eastern Arctic before they were killed or driven away by the Thule ancestors of modern Inuit….

But the site has been dubbed "the Island of the Stone Devils" because some of the faces—possibly depicting a Dorset shaman in religious costume—appear to be adorned with horns. In the past, crosses have been scratched on the "pagan" petroglyphs and some area residents have told researchers they believe the site is infested with evil spirits.

My art history's a little rusty, but I think Duchamp offered the same explanation when he put a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

Anyway, I figure there's two natural libertarian responses to this. One is to call for the privatization of Qajartalik, on the grounds that archeology buffs will do a better job than the government of protecting the north's frozen heritage. The other is to celebrate the cross-carvers, on the grounds that they're rejecting the staid hierarchies of the past and treating human culture as a living conversation to be joined. And of course, those of us who have watched too many horror movies must also consider the possibility that the devil-fearing vandals are right.