World-renowned site damaged
Authorities are offering up to $1,500 in reward money for information leading to the identification and successful prosecution of those responsible for vandalism at a world-renowned archaeological site in eastern Yuma County.
According to Lori Cook, a spokeswoman for the Yuma office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, rangers from the agency discovered the vandalism in November at Sears Point, which is on BLM-administered lands.
"This is part of our history," Cook said. "We take vandalism of archaeological sites very seriously. Normally we don't offer any type of rewards, but we felt this warranted it."
Damage done to the large rock art site includes rolled boulders and fractured petroglyphs. Although rangers aren't sure exactly when the damage was done, Cook said they know it was recently.
"Our rangers have been to the site within the last three months," Cook said. "The last time they were out there, the vandalism hadn't been done yet."
Petroglyphs are designs or figures which have been pecked or scratched into rock surfaces. Cook explained that they are just as important to Native Americans today as they were hundreds of years ago.
Altering the natural landscape, she added, can be offensive to contemporary tribal members, who still visit these places as their ancestors did.
To report any information, call law enforcement Ranger Michael Hauck at 317-3274.
Cook said archaeology sites on public lands are protected by federal law. Defacement is punishable by up to a $100,000 fine and/or imprisonment for up to five years for each offense.
Sears Point Archaeological District is about 75 miles east of Yuma and has been designated by BLM as an Area of Critical Concern since June 1988.
The site consists of petroglyphs, trails, rock alignments and other features which extend for miles along the southern bank of the Gila River.
According to the BLM's Web site, three prehistoric cultures - the Desert Archaic, Patayan and Hohokam - were believed to have used the Sears Point area between 10,000 B.C. and 1450 A.D.
The Desert Archaic Period, known as the Amargosa in western Arizona, is characterized by nomadic lifestyles.
The people living at Sears Point at this time were well adapted to living in desert conditions. They migrated seasonally based on the ripening of certain plant products and hunting conditions.
Sears Point was a more lush area at this time and the Gila River was an important part of survival.
The Patayan and Hohokam peoples lived during what is known as the Ceramic Period. These people experimented with early agriculture and ceramics became important as a way to store food.
According to BLM's Web site, changes in population densities and rainfall may have played a role in this shift from a hunting and gathering emphasis to a more sedentary life closer to major streams and rivers.
A new cultural era in the area is obvious by the presence of more recent petroglyphs of a new style known as the Sears Point Patayan. Often the new style of petroglyphs is superimposed over the top of the older Archaic-period petroglyphs.
The Sears Point area contains evidence that suggests an unusual association between Hohokam and Patayan features, which cannot be seen elsewhere. Sears Point may have been a boundary area between these cultures where the two groups maintained contact with each other.
Very little of the prehistory at Sears Point is well understood. Petroglyphs are difficult to date, and often the archaeological evidence is very subtle and fragile.
Cook said Sears Point is a unique area and holds an enormous amount of information about past lifestyles.