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In the Air – Art+Auction's Gossip Column

Ancient Petroglyphs Stolen Right Off California Cliffs by Vandals

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In a brazen act of theft and vandalism, ancient petroglyphs were cut from cliffs near Bishop, California, gouged out with power saws from where they had been carved over 3,500 years ago. The destruction was discovered by visitors on October 31.

The theft, the LA Times reports, was performed  in a matter of hours, but involved some heavy equipment that had to have been driven out to the isolated lava escarpment located in the Eastern Sierra desert region called Volcanic Tableland, where the ancient carvings of animals, hunters, and geometric designs play over the stones.

According to federal authorities, four of the etchings, some stretching to two-feet wide, were completely sliced out from their location 15 feet up from the ground on the cliff, while another was slashed on three sides with the saw, and yet another was found shattered and left in the nearby visitor parking lot. Dozens of others also suffered damage.

U.S. Bureau of Land Management archaeologist Greg Haverstock told the LA Times: “The individuals who did this were not surgeons, they were smashing and grabbing,” he said, noting that it was “the worst act of vandalism ever seen” at the 750,000 acres of the BLM-managed site.

One of the issues that the incident, which can be charged as a felony, illuminated is that regular policing is impossible under the current budget of the federal lands agencies. Yet even with their tight finances, BLM has put up $1,000 out of their own budget for information resulting in an arrest and conviction.

The article points out that a petroglyph such as those stolen would probably only get between $500 to $1,500 on the black market, making the theft both infuriating and confusing. Yet the sacred site is still used by the Paiute-Shoshone tribal members in ceremonies and maintains an incredibly significant cultural and spiritual role, and it is of course a significant site for archeologists as a glimpse into the ancient world. The missing petroglyphs have left gaping holes in history.

Allison Meier

(Image: Petroglyphs at the Volcano Tablelands, via the Greater Southwestern Exploration Company)

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Comments

  1. that is just sickening!

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