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S.C.V. History
June 7
1861 - Fort Tejon commander ordered to abandon fort (est. 1854) & transfer garrison to Los Angeles [story]
Fort Tejon

Commentary by Linda Castro
| Thursday, Apr 14, 2016

LindaCastroMany people are intrigued by California’s prehistoric times and the people who lived here during those times.

In California, the term “prehistory” represents the time prior to 1542 when the first European explorers began traveling through California and began documenting their first encounters of California Indian cultures through personal journals, diaries and letters, among other documentation.

To the delight of many people who recreate in California’s deserts, prehistoric cultural materials can still be found throughout our desert public lands.

One example of those is a petroglyph. A petroglyph is a design or motif that has been pecked or scratched into a rock surface. It is usually unpainted. Another example is a pictograph. A pictograph is a design or motif that has been painted on a rock surface. Other examples include bedrock mortars, rock alignments, sherds (broken pieces of pottery) and debitage (stone debris produced during flaked-stone tool manufacture).

When one comes upon prehistoric cultural materials, particularly petroglyphs and pictographs, it is important not to touch them. Doing so could damage them. Even a small amount of the oils from our hands can degrade pictographs and darken petroglyphs, eventually destroying the carved image.



Feel free to enjoy them and take photos, but do not touch or move them.

If you do take photographs, it is important that you not share the specific location of any of these materials with any other member of the public. With each person you tell about the specific location, you increase the risk that the item will be damaged, destroyed or stolen.

If you share your photos of these materials with others or post any photos of them on social media, be extremely careful that you are not sharing any geolocation with your photo metadata and that you do not show the landscape in the background of your photo, which may lead to others being able to figure out where you took the photo.

Also, keep in mind that many Native Americans take offense to people displaying photos of petroglyphs and pictographs on social media (even if you do not give the exact location). Petroglyphs and pictographs often have spiritual significance and are often sacred to modern-day Native Americans. For these reasons, one should keep to a minimum the posts with photographs of cultural materials.

When one comes upon smaller cultural materials such as projectile points, sherds and debitage, it is important to leave these materials exactly where you find them. If you excavate, remove, damage or otherwise alter or deface these materials (or merely attempt to do any of these acts), you have violated the Antiquities Act of 1906 and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979, among other laws. A person who is found guilty of violating the Archaeological Resources Protection Act is subject to a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment for up to one year, or both. Penalties are worse if the value of the material involved is worth more than $500 or if a person is a repeat offender.

Bedrock mortar

Bedrock mortar

If you see these types of materials and they are in a location that may result in others damaging, destroying or stealing them, you should move them to a location that is as close as possible to where you found them, but where they will be better hidden or protected.

It is important that you not remove any of these materials to take them to a museum or to the Bureau of Land Management (the government agency that manages our desert public lands). When one removes these items from their original location, the materials lose all archaeological value that they would have had if they had been left in place. Moreover, by leaving these materials where you find them, you show respect for their importance and possible sacredness, as well as for modern-day Native Americans.

If you believe you have found something of great archaeological importance while out in our deserts, take photographs, and note the GPS coordinates and any other information you believe is important (such as a description and license plate number of a person you witnessed holding a can of spray paint at the site) and contact your local Bureau of Land Management field office to make a report. The BLM office that has jurisdiction over the desert public lands closest to Santa Clarita is the Ridgecrest Field Office, located at 300 South Richmond Road, Ridgecrest, CA 93555. The main contact number for that office is 760-384-5400.

By following these steps, we can protect our desert’s rich cultural resources for future generations to enjoy.


Linda Castro is a nature enthusiast and animal lover.  She is the Desert Field Organizer for the California Wilderness Coalition and serves on the board of the SCV-based Community Hiking Club.  Her commentaries relate to California’s deserts.




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