It’s hard to breathe lighter when I’m outraged!

Against better judgment, I typically begin my day with a dose of news radio. There is no shortage of exposure to stories that disturb and distort the peace of the morning, and to liberally borrow from Alice, “Sometimes I’ve been bombarded by as many as six outrageous stories before breakfast.”

I can’t quite explain why out of all the horrors of human behavior one particular story stands out, but you may have heard about the vandalism and theft of ancient Native American petroglyphs from the California-Nevada border. It’s appalling! Federal authorities discovered the vandalism on October 31st, but I heard the first news report just last week.

The Eastern Sierra Mountains are ancient and majestic–emphasis on the word ancient. Hunters and gatherers populated this area more than 3,500 years ago and the area is still used by the Bishop Paiute Tribe for religious ceremonies.

At least four petroglyphs were chiseled from the face of the mountain and taken from the site. Others were defaced with saw cuts. One was broken during the theft and then just propped against a boulder near visitor parking! Dozens are damaged by scarring from hammer  strikes and saws.

It’s a tragic defacement to what area Native Americans have held as sacred space. Their ancestors told stories in those lava boulders with renderings of concentric circles, bows and arrows, deer, rattlesnakes and bighorn sheep. The images depict the  life of the ancient tribes, and terribly selfish and malicious thieves violated the sacred grounds, stripping history and meaning away from their culture in a matter of a very few hours.

Archaeologist David Whitely, who wrote the nomination that succeeded in getting the site listed on the National Register of Historic Places said, “How do we manage fragile resources that have survived as much as 10,000 years but can be destroyed in an instant.”

Yep! Once gain the “few” have threatened the ability of the rest of us to enjoy the freedom to commune with the past through nature. I predict it won’t be long before federal authorities will find it necessary to completely protect the area, and perhaps others like it, by making it impossible to approach.

The Bishop Paiute Tribe is a sovereign nation, the fifth largest tribe in California with around 2,000 enrolled members. The culture of the people is deeply embedded with the natural resources of the area that have been safeguarded by the Paiute people for hundreds of years. This is very tough news to take!

The idea of sacred and spiritual place, timeless historical implication and general natural beauty being stolen from future generations is devastating, and I’ve been thinking about it all week.

The destruction of the petroglyphs is nothing more than vandalism. There is no archaeological team behind it. No one was studying the historically rich escarpment. A few well orchestrated thugs may sell the pieces to private collectors for a few hundred dollars.

I thought about this while we were touring the Cleopatra exhibit at the California Science Center this weekend. I’m certainly not equating authorized archaeological expeditions with vandals, but it did come to my mind that perhaps we are a little cavalier about the search for lost treasures, the burial grounds of ancient kings and queens, and historical artifacts that belong to lost civilizations.

I suppose I’ll be thinking uncomfortable thoughts for a while. I’m too interested in history and what we learn from the discoveries to put aside curiosity on a not yet well-formed principle, but while “touring” I was mindful of the people and civilization of Cleopatra’s Day. It was a bit overwhelming.

Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt will be leaving Los Angeles and the west coast at the end of the month. I’ll share more about this very extensive collection next time, but for today, let me just share a couple of photos to whet your appetite.

Dealing with antiquities is tricky business, isn’t it?

Stay tuned….

41 thoughts on “It’s hard to breathe lighter when I’m outraged!

  1. I had not seen this story yet, but I share your outrage over the petroglyph vandalism. And I, too, have sometimes felt queasy about the “artifacts” that we put in museums. What do we think gives us the right to rob someone else’s heritage, their history, and put it on display for our pleasure?
    It’s been many, many years since I have been to a zoo….

    • I must admit that I haven’t previously given that much thought to archaeological enterprises that have at least been sanctioned by a host country. I don’t know why this latest event of petroglyph vandalism would spark so much new thought, but it has. I do hope they find the perpetrators and can trace back to whomever has financed this latest destruction. It stands to reason that there will be more midnight raids if they are left to reorganize!

  2. such a sad tale, repeated all over the earth …. what understanding has escaped the vandals? i struggle to come to terms with their behaviours …. meanwhile the last photo reminds me of the ajna chakra at the brow, which is symbolically represented by a two petalled grey lotus … thank you for the images :)

    • I think disappointing is a good word for the vandalism, Charlie. We would hope people would not so cavalierly destroy something of this age and sacredness, but then how many horrific things do we hear all the time. I don’t know why I would be so shocked! It’s still a very sad loss. Thanks for stopping by and sharing in my outrage, Charlie!

  3. Desecration for pennies? Disgraceful, but sadly, I’m sure it won’t be the last case of it.

    On my only visit to the British Museum in London, I was overwhelmed by all the stuff- far too much for my teeny brain to cope with- and like you, I really did wonder what on earth it was all doing there. It’s an astonishing place, but I haven’t been back

  4. Start with the bright side. We saw the same Cleopatra exhibit in Cincinnati (first half of 2011). Wonderful!

    In terms of the vandalism who mentioned, simply horrible and inexcusable. I didn’t know about it, so thanks for mentioning it … and well said!

  5. Such wanton acts of disrespect and destruction break my heart, Debra. The church we used to attend was desecrated. It was horrible and I still remember how we all felt. I can only imagine the sorrow of the Bishop Paiute Tribe, and of all Native Americans.

    Here, in Chicago, as a young boy was being eulogized inside a church, two rival gang members shot each other at the steps of the church.

    Maybe I won’t turn on the news today.

    • I think we could all use a news break, Penny, maybe at least for the holiday season Your story of the violence on the steps of the Chicago church are somehow very familiar. There are daily occurrences of something similar, and tragedies are sadly all too plentiful. This story of vandalism and destruction of the petroglyphs hit me so hard I think because there just couldn’t even be much of a market for them. Experts are saying they wouldn’t be worth more than a very few hundred dollars. It’s just so sad…I will be following the story hoping perhaps they vandals are caught!

    • That’s right, Karen. It’s a terrible thing to see how little respect thieves and vandals have for what belongs to others. I’ve felt like someone came into my own backyard and trashed it…but then that has made me more aware of other stories, too. I hope the perpetrators are caught and eventually prosecuted!

  6. Debra, you should definitely read a book called The Future of the Past by Alexander Stille if you have not already. It deals with this dilemma, and I think you would enjoy it.

    As for the destruction of this treasure, how heartbreaking. What would cause a person or group of people to do such a thing? So senseless.

  7. AWful! I just learned so much about Indians being it’s their month right now. That’s extra alarming for me to hear this. Such ignorance from uneducated people. Every little thing for them is valuable and precious. Such shame that other people don’t have even an inkling of consideration before doing despicable, heinous crimes.

  8. That is very sad. It reminds me a bit of when the Taliban destroyed relics in Afghanistan including an ancient Buddha. It is so easy to destroy sacred relics that don’t come from your own tradition and so difficult to protect them.

    • I’m rethinking how much I tune in, Nancy! I go back and forth with trying to stay tuned in to the larger issues and tune out all the local nastiness…but it never really works. It all gets in there! Maybe for at least the holidays I could give it a break!

  9. There is nothing as sad as when history is destroyed by vandalism, be it petroglyphs in California, Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, steeling lost treasures from other countries (which indeed isn’t really vandalism, but no less disgraceful) or book-burning for that matter. I cannot understand the mentality behind these atrocities. I totally agree with you, it’s outrageous.

    • It’s certainly true that this most recent act of vandalism isn’t anything new. Remnants of ancient civilizations all over the world have fallen prey to looting and destruction for centuries, and each loss is a tragedy. I really hope the authorities find and prosecute the perpetrators. Maybe it will be discovered they are part of a much larger ring of thieves. However it turns out it will simply continue to be a very significant loss, particularly to the Native Americans of that region. I don’t share my “irate side” very often. Thank you giving me that opportunity!

    • When I said I was outraged I really wasn’t exaggerating at all. I think the desecration of these petroglyphs for what couldn’t even be significant financial gain just strikes me as so completely senseless. There is a reward for the arrest and conviction of someone(s) so I’m hoping they catch them!

  10. I hadn’t read or heard about this.. but it makes me just sick as well. Such an instant of mindless terrorism and something so beautiful, timeless and precious is destroyed.. and worse.. can never be remade, repaired or restored. I just don’t understand people like this.. they must just be sick in the head or high on drugs. I believe I saw the same museum exhibit? I loved it.. and I’m sure there are now rules about these sorts of antiques. I believe many are only on loan.. at least they are protected here! xx

  11. I clicked ‘Like” but felt hypocritical in doing so because I am deeply disappointed that this pointless act of vandalism occurred so how can that be a ‘like’? Rather I am so respectful that you have such a strong and eloquent voice to raise awareness of this issue. ~Thea

    • I have found myself with the same problem with the “like” button, Thea. They need to give us an alternate choice! :-) You are the second person to have used the word “disappointed” in connection with the petroglyph vandalism, and I noted that, because it is the perfect word. I had been trying to think what it was I really felt. And disappointed is perfect. We live with the effects of urban congestion and I’m deeply disappointed that anyone would destroy something of such beauty. Beyond the spiritual implications for the people who have claimed their heritage in connection with these mountains, the rest of us just need them to breathe free! It’s just plain old sad! Thank you for commiserating with me!

  12. Pingback: There I was, minding my own business…listening to a little Christmas music… | breathelighter

  13. I hadn’t heard about this Debra. I’m also outraged and dismayed. I agree with “Organized Living Essential’s” comment above that it’s hypocritical to click the like button when we’re dismayed to learn of the vandalism. I didn’t click the “like” because I like the vandalism. I clicked the like because you told us a story we had to hear. We were outraged when the Taliban tore down those ancient sites in Afghanistan, but this is much worse – these ancient carvings were destroyed for money!

    Something else that makes me mad is when people carve their names on ancient ruins. I’ve seen ancient ruins in Europe, Belize or Guatemala that have all been defaced with someone’s name.

    • Rewards have been offered for the arrest and conviction of the vandals, Rosie, so I hope that brings them out into the open! It’s a sad story. I have been watching the Department of the Interior website for more information. They didn’t publicize the act until about one month after the discovery, so I presume they have investigations going on. If I hear more, I’ll let you know.

      Even at the Huntington they’ve had to put up signs telling people not to carve their names into the bamboo! Good grief! Minor in comparison, but just as thoughtless!

  14. Dear Debra, I share your sense of outrage. The truth seems to be that some people have no sense of history nor their ties to ALL who have gone before us, inhabiting this planet and passing it on to us. In my mind, this amnesia is a tragedy. Peace.

    • Amnesia! That’s exactly what it is! I still feel such a sense of sadness at these horrible acts of vandalism. I don’t think there can be any way to make peace with the idea that anyone would feel their actions targeting the destruction of another’s culture is up for sale. There are lists of things we could, maybe should, mourn, but this one seems to have targeted my emotional response. Thank you for reading the post and being aware of something in my “neck of the woods.”

  15. No wonder you feel outraged, Debra. I felt the same when I saw the news report of the destruction by the Taliban of the two great Buddha statues in Afghanistan. At least the Taliban acted from ideological motives. This incident was just sheer ignorant vandalism and greed. Sigh…..

    • You have expressed precisely what bothered me the most about the vandalism to the California petroglyphs! Just for money! There couldn’t have been any other reasons, and from what the authorities say, there isn’t even much money in the stolen artifacts. I will just add this incident to my ever-increasing long list of things I just don’t understand!

  16. Ah the conundrum of the “looting” of the tombs! And it is a conundrum, a bit like zoos and game parks – science and research is invaluable, but at what cost? But what you described going on in California is total vandalism, and yes saddening. the only thing I really loved here was your Alice quote :)

    • I am not sure how I feel about all archaeological funding. There are abuses, I’m sure, but I am always first in line to see the exhibits. There are so many things in which I have mixed feelings…this is just one more! It can be wearying. LOL!

    • I know that archaeological integrity is probably an on-going question. I think I’m comfortable with an authorized dig going for the artifacts…I’m a little less “sure” about all the emphasis on finding the graves of kings and queens. I’m glad I’m not in charge of the decision making! :-)

  17. I have thought long and hard on this one… 1st – I think it is disgraceful that such thefts are happening now and I echo your anger Debra.

    2nd, the past is just that. Bad archaeology happened. Eminent people in Victorian times from a variety of Eurpean nations hacked away at key artifacts to enhance their personal position in the heirarchy of emeinence :-( Sadly, the Eurpoean conquerors of the native tribes in America can’t plead ignorance either – we all carry the stain of past actions.

    There are moves by major museums – the British is one – to find a medial way where the thefts of the past are balanced against achieving security of the past in the future.

    • I appreciate your very thoughtful comments about the history of archaeological thievery and some of the disgraceful behaviors of the past, while also recognizing that there are efforts today to make amends, where possible. I think that the more we read and know, the more we will struggle to understand. I think the goal today ought to be to focus on not making the same mistakes of the past, and to be continually aware of the end-result of any action taken. Sometimes we don’t ask enough questions on the front end. Our Getty Museums have had to give some artifacts–some significant ones–back to Italy! It was quite a scandal to realize how many things had been looted and added to the Getty Trust. It’s a complex and very interesting issue. Thank you so much for weighing in, Martin. You always express yourself so well…I think that comes from your opening sentence. “I have thought long and hard on this one…” :-)

I always enjoy hearing from you!

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