“Those formations and the prayers etched into them so many thousands of years ago belong to the public,” said Kathy Jefferson Bancroft, tribal historic preservation officer for the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Reservation. “They are not sources of raw material for unpermitted academic studies.”
Linea Sundstrom, co-chair of the nonprofit American Rock Art Research Association’s conservation and preservation committee, agrees.
“There’s no excuse for it,” she said. “It’s bad education if university professors are not making their students aware of laws protecting archeological sites on public lands.”
Beyond that, Barbara Bane, archeological curator at the Maturango Museum in Ridgecrest, Calif., wondered aloud: “Are these university professors actually saying they couldn’t have gone someplace else to drill their holes? Really?”
The answer to that question is reflected in the penalties meted by Bureau of Land Management officials after lengthy investigations.
Caltech in June agreed to pay $25,465 to the Department of the Interior to cover the costs of repairing damage from the drilling, which the Bureau of Land Management concluded was “inadvertent.” Under the terms of the agreement, it also promised “meaningful academic and educational outreach about the importance of obtaining appropriate federal permits before conducting research on public lands.”
In a statement, Caltech said, “While this was an isolated incident that took place more than four years ago, we deeply regret the damage caused to public lands, especially in light of this area’s sacred meaning to local tribal groups.”
“Going forward,” it added, “Caltech will conduct academic and educational outreach to promote fuller understanding, appreciation, and respect for the importance of clear authorization before undertaking research with the potential to affect geological or archeological resources in any way — both within our community and the broader geosciences field.”
It’s not just Caltech.
The University of Texas at Dallas in 2018 paid $19,842 in connection with 41 holes drilled two years earlier without authorization into a rock art site on agency land just over the Nevada border, about 25 miles east of the Volcanic Tablelands.