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Ear to the Ground

Ancient American Petroglyphs Desecrated by Thieves

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Posted on Nov 20, 2012
Frank Kovalchek (CC-BY)

Petroglyphs near Bishop, Calif.

At least six 3,500-year-old rock carvings from California’s Volcanic Tableland have been stolen, vandalized or destroyed. Thieves may expect a few thousand dollars for their haul—a pittance compared with the historic and spiritual value of the ancient petroglyphs.

One Bureau of Land Management archaeologist called it “the worst act of vandalism ever seen” in the area.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, officials are concerned about how they might protect other ancient works of religious art scattered around hundreds of thousands of acres with little in the way of funding.

Los Angeles Times:

“How do we manage fragile resources that have survived as much as 10,000 years but can be destroyed in an instant?” asked archaeologist David Whitley, who in 2000 wrote the nomination that succeeded in getting the site listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “Do we keep them secret in hopes that no one vandalizes them? Or, do we open them to the public so that visitors can serve as stewards of the resources?”

The easy answer is to police the site and others listed under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. But that’s not possible given the condition of cash-strapped federal lands agencies, authorities said.

Authorities said the petroglyphs aren’t worth a great 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.

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—Posted by Peter Z. Scheer.

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