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Fundraiser launched to help restore stolen artifacts

May 9, 2014

In addition to stealing six petroglyphs from a site near Bishop, a thief or thieves also damaged several other ancient pieces of art. The Bishop Paiute Tribe is raising money to complete an assessment to see if the six petroglyphs, which were recovered early last year, can be re-placed on the rock wall they were carved from. Photo courtesy Greg Haverstock

As the community prepares to dive into Mule Days later this month, the Bishop Paiute Tribe is offering another kind of look into the history of the West with a documentary screening fundraiser later this month.
The goal is to raise money to replace six ancient petroglyph panels that were stolen from a site north of Bishop in October 2012.
The tribe is partnering with the nonprofit statewide petroglyph conservation organization the California Rock Art Foundation to present a documentary, “Talking Stone,” at the Bishop Union High School Auditorium at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 22.
According to Bishop Historic Tribal Preservation Officer Raymond Andrews, money raised from ticket sales for the screening, and sales of the documentary on DVD at the event, will help fund a $5,000 assessment that will determine if several petroglyphs stolen from a site north of Bishop in last year can be returned to their original home.
The theft of the petroglyphs made international headlines. The Bishop Paiute Tribe, Bureau of Land Management, which is investigating the theft, and a local citizen group called “Raise the Bounty: Climbers Against the Bishop Petroglyph Theft,” offered rewards totalling $9,000 for any information leading to the safe return of the ancient artifacts and successful prosecution of those responsible for the theft.
In March 2013, the petroglyphs were anonymously returned to the BLM Bishop Field Office. Phone calls to BLM investigators were not returned as of press time Friday. However, Andrews said that the investigation is ongoing, and as such, the petroglyphs are being held by the BLM as evidence.
“They’re still following up on leads and I think people are still giving suggestions that they’re looking at,” Andrews said. “I don’t know how long they’ll keep the investigation going.”
The assessment is in anticipation of the conclusion of the investigation, and the return of the stolen artifacts to the Bishop tribe.
“The assessment is just to see if conditions, the weather and the application, will work if they put them back,” Andrews said. He explained that re-placing the petroglyphs on the rock wall they were stolen from is not as simple as mixing mortar and putting the rock art back in place. “You need a professional. Weather has a lot to do with it. And that’s tuff, tufa kind of rock” that can expand and contract and move during small earthquakes, Andrews said. “We’ve had a lot of seismic activity in just the last month.”
Andrews said the tribe is hoping to hire Dane and Associates, a company that has previously worked with the BLM on similar projects, to handle the evaluation.
Andrews said that the California Rock Art Foundation got involved recently when the group’s founder and director, Alan Garfinkel, Ph.D., heard about the tribe’s efforts to replace the petroglyphs.
“I noticed that the Owens Valley Bishop Paiute were trying to raise money in order to evaluate the potential for rehabilitating their damaged sacred rock art that was stolen and vandalized,” Garfinkel said. “… The Bishop Paiute Tribe and the Bureau of Land Management suffered what must be one of the most egregious examples of rock art theft I have ever heard of.”
Garfinkel recently completed a documentary that explores the ancient rock art of the Coso Range with Emmy and Oscar-winning cinematographer and documentary filmmaker Paul Goldsmith, ASC and felt that a screening could help the tribe meet its $5,000 goal for the study.
Garfinkel said the documentary is about the prehistoric rock drawing concentration in the Coso Range – just south of Olancha within the confines of the China Lake Naval Weapons Center just north of Ridgecrest and east of Little Lake.
“The rock drawings (petroglyphs) in the Coso Range represent the largest concentration of rock drawings in the Western Hemisphere,” Garfinkel said. “Conservative estimates peg the number of instances of rock drawings there at a minimum of 100,000 images.”
Because the ancient artwork is on the China Lake Navy base, access is limited, so the documentary is a rare opportunity to see the ancient artifacts and hear experts discuss them.
“… The drawings and their peculiar style are relatively unique for a desert setting (in the Great Basin) with over half being representational or naturalistic images of bighorn sheep, deer, quail, mountain lions, hunting dogs, dancing natives, individual medicine men and women in ceremonial costumes and animal human figures (perhaps supernatural figures of religious lore and oral traditions),” Garfinkel said.
“This is one of those things,” Andrews said. “It’s the way that we believe. (The petroglyphs) are still giving us information, and we’re still doing what our ancestors have done with them. That’s why it’s important that we put them back out there.”
Tickets for the documentary screening are $5 each and copies of “Rock Art” will be available through the Bishop Tribe and
the Native American Student Association at Bishop Union High School.

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