It can’t be put back onto the boulders from which it was cut, but rock art that was stolen from California’s Owens Valley in the eastern Sierra last year has been returned to authorities. The Bureau of Land Management announced this week that it received an unsigned letter tell the agency where five petroglyph panels could be found.
The BLM suspects the letter came from the thieves; it was unsigned and thus passes up the $9,000 reward. Under the best of circumstances, the sale value of the panels would be small, perhaps $1,000 per panel, and with the worldwide publicity the theft received, it’s unlikely they could be fenced at all.
“Now, the healing can begin,” Bernadette Lovato, manager of the BLM field office in Bishop, told the Los Angeles Times. “Recovery was a priority for me, and the public outrage intensified the need for them to be returned.”
The theft was a major operation, with the culprits using ladders, saws, chisels, and an electrical generator. Five pieces were stolen and sixth was broken and left propped against a boulder near a visitor parking lot. Dozens of other petroglyphs were scarred by hammer strikes and saw cuts. BLM archaeologist Greg Haverstock called it “the worst act of vandalism ever seen” on the 750,000 acres of public land managed by the BLM field office in Bishop.
Lovato said that a criminal investigation is continuing.