Happy Thanksgiving from those of us in the United States! It’s a day in which we Estadounidenses traditionally gather to celebrate the debt of gratitude we owe the original inhabitants of the land for helping the first European colonists survive. The remembrance takes many forms. Most commonly, we commemorate our Native cousins by not paying any attention to them at all, though on occasion we note their contributions by red-baiting their allies. And every once in a while, we celebrate this holiday by destroying irreplaceable Native ceremonial art dating back to a time contemporaneous with the European Bronze Age.
From my KCET story linked above:
The petroglyphs are thought to be as much as 3,500 years old, and still play an important role in the cultural life of the Owens Valley Paiute and Shoshone people. Paiute tribal historic preservation officer Raymond Andrews told Los Angeles Times reporter Louis Sahagun this week that the vandalized petroglyphs are regularly visited by modern-day Native people of the Eastern Sierra. “We still use this sacred place as a kind of church to educate tribal members and children about our historical and spiritual connections. So, our tribal elders are appalled by what happened here.”
According to the BLM, the vandals drove ladders, power saws, and portable generators to the site to attempt to remove the petroglyphs. Four were apparently removed successfully. A fifth, shown above, was damaged by saw cuts but left in place: a sixth was broken after removal and left on site. BLM rangers also reported hammer damage to dozens of nearby petroglyphs.
You don’t have to buy into Paiute/Shoshone religious beliefs to find an act like this appalling, just as you wouldn’t need to be a Magdalenian animist to get pissed off if someone took a crowbar to the Megaloceros paintings at Lascaux. A couple years ago a couple of slack-jawed nitwits took their paintball guns into a canyon in southern Nevada that figures prominently in the origin myths of a number of Native people along the lower Colorado River. Said nitwits defaced a number of petroglyph panels there. One doesn’t have to actually believe that Mastamho the creator’s son dug the Colorado out of the desert sands with his walking stick and sent the local tribes off in different directions to feel grief and anger at that damage to culturally significant artwork.
I won’t venture a guess as to the motivation of the thieves, though I suspect — to steal a joke from Professor Bérubé — a primitive form of outrage influenced by what the Greeks called μεθαμφεταμινε. Whatever their motivation, they need to be found and corrected before they do it again. The desert has a deep human history every bit as fascinating and inspiring as its natural history. Damaging it damages our common heritage. On the off chance a reader here has a friend of a friend who knows something, the BLM and the local Tribal government have set up a reward for info.