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?
- Reward Offered In Major Rock Art Vandalism (kcet.org)
- Petroglyphs stolen from sacred Calif. American Indian site (cbsnews.com)
- Petroglyphs hacked from California cliffs in ‘worst act of vandalism’ (mercurynews.com)