Impacts: Damage To Cultural Resources in the California Desert


Of the nearly 3000 prehistoric and historic sites recorded in the California Desert inventory, 36% have already been damaged so extensively that their condition is reduced to fair or poor. Vandalism is regarded as the major threat to archaeological sites in the desert, and both vandalism and ORV damage are increasing. Historic sites and prehistoric villages have suffered the worst. Less than 40% of them are in good condition. The damage that has been inflicted on archaeological sites in the desert demonstrates the effects of years of unmanaged use of the desert, and uncontrolled vandalism.

Patrolling of accessible sites, monitoring "inaccessible" sites, development of active interpretive programs, removal of trash and signs of vandalism, signing, and apprehension and prosecution of vandals are all common-sense techniques that may slow the destruction of particular archaeological resources. Table 34 (p.153) summarizes management approaches appropriate for a variety of archaeological sites. The relative effectiveness of the several techniques remains unknown, although the costs of each can be estimated for a particular site. We recommend that management strategies for archaeological sites in the desert be implemented in the framework of an experiment to obtain quantitative information regarding the effectiveness of alternate strategies and combinations of techniques in a variety of problem areas. We also recommend the development of archaeological destinations in the desert to channel the interests of desert residents of desert communities and visitors into non-damaging activities. Among such destinations are sites with interpretive programs and archaeological excavations underway with provisions for observation of and/or participation in the work.

A BLM-sponsored program of archaeological data recovery is a necessary component of the protection of resources in the desert. Management techniques may slow the rate of attrition of sites, and can protect selected sites. Sites in "open" areas and other unprotected locations will be lost, however, and with them a great portion of the prehistoric and historic record of the desert. These unprotected areas need to be the focus of scientific investigations.

Natural destruction of archaeological sites is primarily the result of erosion and deposition caused by desertwide winter cyclonic storms. Erosion is greatly accelerated on surfaces which have been disturbed by human activity. Wind deflation is a lesser hazard to cultural resources except where sites occur in unstable substrates such as sand dunes. As is the case with precipitation, wind deflation is more destructive where the natural surface has been broken by human activity.

Damage from natural causes is more frequent at sites in the northeast sector of the California Desert than elsewhere, the result of the interaction of desert topography with storm tracks moving northeast from the Pacific Ocean. Areas underlain by Tertiary terrestrial sediments are vigorously attacked by erosion in all areas of the desert, and sites situated on them are especially vulnerable. Except in rare instances it is not feasible to protect sites against natural processes. Information regarding the rate of destruction caused by erosion and deflation is needed so that a site's prospects for the future can be estimated and considered in planning. Such information can only be gained from a program of controlled experiments and monitored, protected plots designed for long-term observation.

Originally the information in this record was migrated into tDAR from the National Archaeological Database Reports Module (NADB-R) and updated. In 2014, as part of its effort to improve tDAR content, the Center for Digital Antiquity uploaded a copy of the document and further improved the record metadata.

Cite this Record

Impacts: Damage To Cultural Resources in the California Desert. Margaret M. Lyneis, David L. Weide, Elizabeth Von Till Warren. Cultural Resources Publications. Riverside, CA: Bureau of Land Management. 1980 ( tDAR id: 126810) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8PV6MBB

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Spatial Coverage

min long: -117.187; min lat: 32.529 ; max long: -114.087; max lat: 36.907 ;

Individual & Institutional Roles

Sponsor(s): BLM, Riverside

Prepared By(s): University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Submitted To(s): Bureau of Land Management, Desert Planning Staff, Riverside, California

Record Identifiers

NADB document id number(s): 1044507; 1122284

NADB citation id number(s): 000000316128; 000000015898

Contract No.(s): CA-960-CT9-109


General Note: Originally this record was automatically added to tDAR from NADB. In 2014, a copy of the document was added and the record metadata was updated. There was one additional record (tDAR id: 340229 ) for this document, which have been marked as "duplicate".

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