Petroglyphs stolen from sacred eastern Sierra site recovered

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Petroglyph panels cut and chiseled off an eastern Sierra rock art site sacred to Native Americans have been recovered by federal investigators, U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials announced Thursday.

The suspected thieves have not been identified and the investigation is continuing into one of the worst acts of vandalism ever committed on the 750,000 acres of public land managed by the BLM field office in Bishop.


“Now, the healing can begin,” BLM Field Office Manager Bernadette Lovato said in an interview. “Recovery was a priority for me, and the public outrage intensified the need for them to be returned.”

Lovato declined to disclose details about the discovery, except to say, “We found all five panels by following an anonymous tip sent to us in a letter.”

“The panels are currently being held as evidence,” she said. “After a prosecution, perhaps they may eventually be put on public display somehow, but that will be up to Paiute-Shoshone tribal leaders.”

“I feels real good to have them come back home,” Paiute tribal historic preservation officer Raymond Andrews said in an interview.

Investigators believe the vandals used ladders, chisels, electric generators and power saws to remove the panels from cliffs in an arid high-desert region known as Volcanic Tablelands, about 15 miles north of Bishop. The thieves gouged holes in the rock and sheared off slabs that were up to 15 feet above ground and two feet high and wide.

The desecration was reported to the BLM on Oct. 31 by visitors to the area held sacred by Native Americans whose ancestors carved hundreds of lava boulders and cliffs with spiritual renderings: concentric circles, deer, rattlesnakes, bighorn sheep and hunters with bows and arrows. The site, which is still used by the local Pauite for ceremonies, is protected under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Authorities said the petroglyphs were not worth a great a deal on the illicit market, probably $500 to $1,500 each.


But they are priceless to Native Americans, who regard the massive tableaux as a window into the souls of their ancestors.

There is a $9,000 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 one year and fined as much as $20,000, authorities said.

Second-time offenders can be fined up to $100,000 and imprisoned up to five years.

Anybody with information about the theft is asked to contact the BLM at (760) 937-0301 or (760) 937-0657.


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-- Louis Sahagun

Photo: U.S. Bureau of Land Management archaeologist Greg Haverstock in November inspects vandalized archaeological site where power saws were used to remove 3,000-year-old petroglyphs. Credit: Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times