They're the few lasting links to ancient Hawaiian culture. But, someone has done serious damage to more than two dozen petroglyphs at Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park on the Big Island and they could be lost for good.
Vandals probably made fast work of damaging the ancient rock carvings. Repairing what they've done is proving far more daunting.
It could take weeks -- maybe months. There's also a chance some may never be the same. Twenty-six were damaged in all.
"Someone took a white, powdery substance and mixed it with water, kind of made a plaster paris kind of thing and basically highlighted petroglyphs,” said Cultural Resource Program Manager Tyler Paikuli-Campbell.
The petroglyphs are in the lava fields of Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park and park officials believe the vandals -- possibly photographers -- clearly went off the trail and out of their way to do this.
They've been working with petroglyph experts to remove the material. But it's painstaking work.
"We’re using paper clips and pins and soft toothbrushes to lightly scrub and pick it all out. We’re still not sure if we’ll be able to remove all the material because some of the pukas in the lava are just so small and there’s so much of it," said Paikuli-Campbell.
The petroglyphs date back pre-Captain Cook. What they mean, no one knows for sure.
"Many of these petroglyph makers were potentially revered as highly as we revere Herb Kane, for example. We cannot go back and ask them why they did that, why they put it there, what does it mean?” said Chief of Interpretation Eric Andersen.
But what is understood, the story told here, may be scarred for good.
“When it is altered is some way, it truly is gone forever,” said Andersen.
The material the vandals used is being sent away to be analyzed. Desecrating a national park is a felony offense, punishable up to $20,000 in fines and imprisoned for up to one year.
Anyone with information on the vandals, or to report suspicious activity, is asked to contact the park's 24-hour dispatch number (808) 985-6170.