Though authorities aren’t giving specific locations, five historically and culturally significant sites in San Diego County’s backcountry have been looted recently, reports the Los Angeles Times.
According to the Times, 21 dig holes were dug at one site, each about the size of a dinner table.
“I’ve seen some pretty looted sites across California, and that one was one of the worst I’ve ever seen, and it was one of the first ones we found,” Dan Falat, superintendent of California State Parks’ Colorado Desert District, which includes Cuyamaca Rancho, Palomar Mountain and Anza-Borrego Desert state parks, told the Times.
An ancient village site where generations of Kumeyaay women dug mortars into a large slab of granite bedrock over several centuries was also plundered.
Authorities found shovels, screens, rakes, and other looting tools at some of the locations, reported the Times.
The damage is done, irreversible, and can lead to felony charges against the looters.
“Once you take it from where it is, it loses its context with the rest of the things that are found,” park archaeologist Robin Connors told the Times. The artifacts “are all pieces of a puzzle, and once you take one piece out, it’s really irritating because you can’t find it again. It’s devastating, just devastating.”
The looters aren’t looking to make money, park officials told the Times that most arrowheads are only worth about $3 to $5. These looters are most likely collectors.
The cultural destruction may be the most devastating. “For the Native American communities it’s basically grave robbing because you’re going into a sacred space and taking away the objects that were made by the ancestors,” Shasta Gaughen, historic preservation officer for the Pala Band of Mission Indians, told the Times. “Tribes believe those are things that should be left in place and they should be undisturbed. … It’s like you’re taking bodies from a cemetery.”
To catch the looters, the park service is using surveillance cameras, patrols, and park visitors are encouraged to report suspicious behavior.