An ancient rock art panel in one of the most spectacular historic settings in Northumberland has been damaged.
Police are appealing for information after names were carved into the stone rock panel at Lordenshaws, near Rothbury.
The site, below the Simonside Hills in Northumberland National Park, has sweeping views over the town and the Coquet Valley, and attracts many visitors.
But now the words “DONZ MIK JAZ” have been carved into a rock on the main cup and ring panel.
The incident has been reported as a heritage crime.
Yesterday The Journal reported that 17 prehistoric rock art panels had won national recognition by being officially designated as ancient monuments by the Government, on the advice of English Heritage.
“A lot of local people are incredibly annoyed about this, because of the sense of pride in their local heritage,” said national park historic environment officer Chris Jones.
The rock art is part of a complex archaeological landscape at Lordenshaws, which was designated as a scheduled ancient monument as long ago as the 1950s because of its importance.
“It is precious and a special place because it is a connection between the people from that area thousands of years ago to communities today,” said Mr Jones.
Police are urging anyone who witnessed the incident or has any information that could help their investigation to contact them.
Neighbourhood Inspector Paul Truscott said: “The site is an important part of Northumberland’s heritage and it is completely unacceptable that it has been damaged in this way.
“We’re working closely with Northumberland National Park and English Heritage and are carrying out inquiries to identify those responsible.
“The person or people who have done this might think it was nothing more than a bit of fun. However, they’ve spoilt an ancient monument that many people come to visit.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact Northumbria Police on 101, quoting reference 487 070414, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
An English Heritage spokeswoman said: “We are aware of the damage and are working closely with the national park archaeologist, who has reported it to the police for a crime number.”
Mark Harrison, national policing and crime advisor for English Heritage, said: “We are working closely with the national park and local police to trace the offenders and take appropriate action.”
Lordenshaws is one of the most accessible rock art sites, with a national park car park nearby signposted from the B6342.
Rob Young, English Heritage inspector for the North East, said: “Incidents like this are very rare.
“But Lordenshaws is a tremendous landscape ranging from the Neolithic to the medieval where people are given a fantastic insight into archaeology only 100 metres from a car park.”
Lordenshaws has been a special place for at least 5,000 years.
Scattered around Lordenshaws are examples of prehistoric cup and ring rock carvings, thought to be from between 5,000 and 4,000 years ago.
There are also Bronze Age burial cairns on the site and an Iron Age hill fort from around 350BC.
Around 500 years after its construction, when defences were no longer needed, part of the ramparts were cleared to create a site for stone roundhouses. Running across the area is the boundary and remains of walls of a 13th Century deer park.