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 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.
Really awful. The pieces in fact are not of great value on the market but are to the Native tribespeople who consider that land sacred. It’s unclear why such an effort was made to take them. The theft has raised a question of how to protect such archaeological resources. In the case of fossils, it’s typical to not disclose the location of the find until the pieces are removed for safekeeping. Should the petroglyphs be removed? Even more so than fossils, they represent a connection to that place. The authorities can’t secure all the locations, one has to rely on respect for such irreplaceable artifacts. Sadly, not everyone has that sense of respect.