The investigation into the theft of six priceless artifacts chiseled from the rocks of a local petroglyph site continues, as the pieces of ancient artwork sit in evidence storage at the Bureau of Land Management.
BLM Field Manager Bernadette Lovato said last week that no official plans have been made for the six petroglyph panels that were stolen late last year and anonymously returned in late January.
“For now, they have to stay in evidence, and there’s not a lot we can do with them until further down the road,” Lovato said. “Then we will work with the tribes on what to do with them.”
Though no decision has been made on the future of the petroglyph panels, Haverstock said in February that some conversations have been held with local tribal leaders and some options have been discussed.
One scenario would be to attempt to replace the panels by returning them to their original place at the petroglyph site. Haverstock said the panels, along with several others at the site that were not stolen, were severely damaged in the theft and that option may not be feasible.
“I’m not ever willing to say ‘never’ as far as the restoration of the panels goes,” Lovato said. “But it’s hard to know right now.”
Another idea for the stolen petroglyph panels that has been discussed is the possibility of creating a kiosk at the site that includes the damaged panels along with information about the protection and preservation of the site.
Haverstock said last month that the decision about what to do with the panels will be up to the BLM field manager, but any direction the Bishop Tribe provides will be considered.
The six petroglyph panels were stolen from a site north of Bishop sometime before Oct. 1, 2012. BLM officials have said that widespread media attention throughout the state and several reward funds for the apprehension of those responsible may have been a factor in the return of the petroglyphs to the BLM field office in late January.
BLM Archaeologist Greg Haverstock said last month that the panels were dropped off at the BLM field office in Bishop, but there has been no way to trace who had the panels, or why they were returned.
Since the artifacts were recovered, Lovato said, BLM investigators have continued their search for those responsible. She said as long as the BLM considers the matter an “open investigation” the recovered panels will remain in BLM custody as evidence.
Because authorities are still seeking those responsible for the theft and associated vandalism, the BLM is keeping the details about how it recovered the ancient rock art under wraps at this time.
“Recovery of the petroglyphs was a priority from day one,” Lovato said in February, when the panels were recovered. “Now we need the public’s help to identify the vandals responsible for damaging the site.”
While the discussion about what should be done with the panels once they are released from evidence continues, Lovato said, the BLM’s priority is to find those who are responsible.
“Someone knows who took those panels or caused the damage,” Lovato said. “From an investigation standpoint, we need specific details if someone has heard or saw something.”
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 reward could not be claimed after the petroglyph panels were returned in January, as it did not lead to an arrest or conviction.
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.
Anyone with information about the theft is asked to call BLM law enforcement at (760) 937-0301 or (760) 937-0657.