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The Coso petroglyphs, located on the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in southern Inyo County, California, constitute a concentrated and extensive collection of rock art. The Coso rock art field is on public lands now managed by the Navy, which permits escorted tours of the Lower Renegade Canyon site. Location on restricted military lands has protected the rock art since World War II, but what happened before the Navy came? Visitors frequently ask whether the presence of the rock art was known prior to land withdrawal for the Navy in 1943, and whether it was a factor in the withdrawal process. Clearly the petroglyphs were known by the local Native American groups for millennia, and were subsequently “discovered” by Euro-American settlers and prospectors. In this lecture we describe the Coso rock art district and trace the events in its “discovery” by Euro-American society from the early 19th century up to the seminal study of the Coso petroglyphs by Grant, Baird, and Pringle, published in 1968.
Alexander Rogers and Russell Kaldenberg, were associated with the rock art of the Coso region for many years. Alexander (Sandy) Rogers, grew up in the high desert of California, near Coso, and holds advanced degrees in both physics and anthropology. For almost 40 years he was in physics research and aviation weapon systems development with the Navy laboratories at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and the Naval Air Warfare Center at China Lake. He retired in 2002 as a Senior Executive in the Naval Air Systems Command, and in retirement worked in contract archaeology and as the archaeology curator of the Maturango Museum in Ridgecrest, California. His fields of research in archaeology are Great Basin hunter-gatherers, rock art, and development of obsidian dating as a chronometric method. He and his wife Fran led tours to the Coso petroglyphs for many years. He retired from the museum in 2020 and he and Fran now live in Hillsboro, Oregon.
Co-author, Russell (Russ) Kaldenberg, has been a key figure in California archaeology and cultural resource management. He earned his MA working at the Harris Ranch site in San Diego County, and was a career archaeologist in the Bureau of Land Management for years. Following a term as BLM State Archaeologist for California, he left the BLM and became the Command Archaeologist for the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in 2004, from which he retired in 2009. He is currently a lead archaeologist with ASM Affiliates.
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