At least four ancient petroglyphs were cut from cliffs at the Volcanic Tableland and dozens of others damaged in ‘the worst act of vandalism ever seen’ on federal lands in the area.
By Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times
November 18, 2012, 9:55 p.m.
BISHOP, Calif. – Ancient hunters and gatherers etched vivid petroglyphs on cliffs in the Eastern Sierra that withstood winds, flash floods and earthquakes for more than 3,500 years. Thieves needed only a few hours to cut them down and haul them away.
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.
“The individuals who did this were not surgeons, they were smashing and grabbing,” U.S. Bureau of Land Management archaeologist Greg Haverstock said last week as he examined the damage. “This was the worst act of vandalism ever seen” on the 750,000 acres of public land managed by the BLM field office in Bishop.
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 2 feet high and wide.
Visitors discovered the theft and reported it to the BLM on Oct. 31. BLM field office manager Bernadette Lovato delivered the bad news to Paiute-Shoshone tribal leaders in Bishop.
“It was the toughest telephone call I ever had to make,” Lovato said. “Their culture and spiritual beliefs had been horribly violated. We will do everything in our power to bring those pieces back.”
The region is known as Volcanic Tableland. It is held sacred by Native Americans whose ancestors adorned hundreds of lava boulders with spiritual renderings: concentric circles, deer, rattlesnakes, bighorn sheep, and hunters with bows and arrows.
For generations, Paiute-Shoshone tribal members and whites have lived side by side but not together in Bishop. But desecration of the site, which Native Americans still use in spiritual ceremonies, has forced reservation officials and U.S. authorities to come together and ask a tough question: Can further vandalism be prevented?