Disturbing theft, damage mourned at petroglyph site near Bishop

Ann Cousineau

Compared to a shocking and ravaging attack on ancient artifacts by vandals last month, thousands of years of winds, flash floods and earthquakes barely scratched the surfaces of a half-mile archeological site at the volcanic tablelands in the Owens Valley near Bishop.

“Federal authorities say at least four petroglyphs have been taken from the site. A fifth was defaced with deep saw cuts on three sides. A sixth had been removed and broken during the theft, then propped against a boulder near a visitor parking lot. Dozens of other petroglyphs were scarred by hammer strikes and saw cuts,” reported Louis Sahagun in the Los Angeles Times on Nov. 18.

“The theft required extraordinary effort: Ladders, electric generators and power saws had to be driven into the remote and arid high desert site near Bishop. Thieves gouged holes in the rock and sheared off slabs that were up to 15 feet above ground and two feet high and wide.”

Paiute Tribal Historic Preser-vation Officer Raymond Andrews observed sacred law by quietly chanting a traditional prayer when he approached the site earlier this month. “We still use this sacred place as a kind of church to educate tribal members and children about our historical and spiritual connections. So our tribal elders are appalled by what happened here,” Andrews told Sahagun.

“The petroglyphs on the panel have been there since time immemorial, and to be removed and damaged in a matter of minutes is detrimental and heartbreaking to the Bishop Piute Tribe. We hope the individuals responsible for these horrid acts will be brought to justice,” said Chad Delgado, Bishop Piute Tribal chairman, in an article by Mike Gervaise published by the Inyo Register on Nov. 19.

The Bureau of Land Manage-ment is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the thieves. Damaging or removing the petroglyphs is a felony. First-time offenders can be imprisoned for up to a year and fined as much as $20,000, authorities said. Second-time offenders can be fined up to $100,000 and imprisoned for up to five years.

Meanwhile, a treasured collection of petroglyphs near Ridgecrest remains safely tucked away on the Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake. The Maturango Museum describes the local site as one of the largest known concentrations of petroglyphs in the western hemisphere. In the canyons and plateaus of the Coso Range are thousands of images left by the hunter-gatherer people who populated this region in times past.

Public access is permitted to the petroglyphs in Little Petroglyph Canyon but is limited to tours with Navy-approved guides. The Matu-rango Museum conducts guided tours in the spring and fall each year. For more information, see the museum’s website at www.maturangomuseum.org.

Story First Published: 2012-11-28