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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Feds Say Drunk Man|Defaced Ancient Art

FRESNO, Calif. (CN) - A Bakersfield man who desecrated an ancient Indian petroglyph by spray-painting vulgar messages on it faces up to 10 years in federal prison, federal prosecutors said.

Christopher Harp, 58, pleaded not guilty Friday to a grand jury indictment charging him with depredation of public lands, in Sequoia National Forest.

Angry at a co-worker and "very drunk," Harp spray-painted "blow jobs 24-7" and his employer's phone number on a prehistoric rock carving of a bighorn sheep, a Forest Service investigator wrote in an affidavit in support of an arrest warrant. "Other vulgar pictures, arrows and designs were painted on other rock faces," the affidavit states.

The site, known as Rabbit Island, once was home to a large Tubatulabal Indian village. Harp sprayed it with an aerosol can of black asphalt sealer, according to the affidavit.

The phone number is registered to Armor Fiberglass in Bakersfield, which helped the Forest Service investigator track down Harp.

Harp admitted he did it, because he was "pissed off" at a co-worker, Forest Service investigator Brian Adams wrote in the affidavit.

Harp told Adams he was so drunk he didn't even see the rock carvings when he spray-painted them at night.

"Harp said he had been drinking beer and vodka that day. Harp said he did not know there were petroglyphs on the rocks when he committed the vandalism and had no idea the area had archaeological significance," the affidavit states.

Instead of beating up the co-worker he was mad at, as he had done twice before, Harp told Adams that this time "he put his phone number along with vulgar messages on the rocks instead."

It will cost more than $1,000 to remove the graffiti without damaging the petroglyph, according to the affidavit.

Harp has been placed at WestCare California Residential Treatment for substance abuse and mental health treatment. If convicted of defacing public land, he could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison and fined $250,000.

Harp is represented by Janet Bateman, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Tubatulabal have lived in the Kern River Valley in the Sierra Nevadas for at least 3,000 years. Many of them are enrolled in the Tule tribe today.

The Tubatulabal spoke a Uto-Aztecan language, one of the great language families of the pre-Colombian Americas, which stretches all the way south to modern-day Mexico City.

The word Tubatulabal has some relation to pine nuts, which was a major food source for the prehistoric people, as were acorns.

Ethnologists say that when Native American tribes discovered that the bitterness could be leached out of acorns by soaking them in water, it created an "acorn revolution" that permitted sedentary villages. A single large oak tree could feed a family for months.

Assured of a stable food supply, the tribes and bands could settle down, and after they did so, the dialects in California's many mountain valleys drifted apart. The Tubatulabal dialect drifted so far it is considered an independent Uto-Aztecan language.

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