Stolen petroglyphs recovered, culprits still at large

A set of petroglyph panels stolen from a cultural site north of Bishop last fall have been returned to the Bureau of Land Management but authorities are still looking for those responsible for the theft and the damage at the site.

Phone calls to the BLM seeking comment on how the petroglyph panels were recovered were not returned.
The damaged petroglyph site was first reported in October, 2012, at which time authorities said six panels had been removed by rock saws and chisels.

In addition to the stolen ancient artwork, dozens of other images at the site were damaged as the thief or thieves cut away the pieces they stole.

“Recovery of the petroglyphs was a priority from day one,” BLM Field Office Manager Bernadette Lovato said via press release. “Now we need the public’s help to identify the vandals responsible for damaging the site.”

Rewards funds from the BLM, Bishop Paiute Tribe and an online group calling itself “Raise the Bounty: Climbers Against the Bishop Petroglyph Theft,” have raised a total of $9,000 to be offered as a reward for information leading to the conviction of those responsible.

The petroglyph site is protected under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. According to the BLM, “this site is one of the most significant rock art sites in the region and is still used by the local Paiute for ceremony.”

Convictions on ARPA violations can result in fines and/or prison terms. In addition, ARPA provides for civil fines and even the forfeiture of vehicles and equipment used in violating the statute.

Power tools and ladders were used to remove the ancient rock art. One piece that was removed, BLM Archaeologist Greg Haverstock said following initial reports of the theft, was more than 15 feet off the ground and would have taken extensive effort to remove intact.

“The suspect(s) may have experience and access to masonry cutting tools,” a press release from the BLM states.

The thefts and damage were reported Oct. 31 when a member of a local Archeological Preservation Resource Group, a volunteer group of citizens who have been trained to watch for theft and vandalism at culturally sensitive sites, made a routine check of the area.

Haverstock said the site had been monitored five weeks prior to the report, which means the crime took place between the last week of September and the last week in October.

Anyone with information about the theft is asked to call BLM law enforcement at (760) 937-0301 or (760) 937-0657.