Stolen petroglyph returned to original home in Nevada

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LAS VEGAS (AP) - A petroglyph bearing the distinct images of bighorn sheep has been returned to its original home in southern Nevada after it was stolen in 2008.

The 300-plus-pound boulder was lifted by helicopter early this month to a remote site in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

"It doesn't belong in a museum," said Kelly Turner, an archaeologist for the U.S. Forest Service. "It's kind of like caging a bird."

In April, Michael Cook, 58, a Pahrump real estate agent, was sentenced to six months in prison for stealing the petroglyph. He claimed he used a rope to pull the free-standing boulder down into his truck.

He was arrested after Nye County sheriff's detective Morgan Dillon spotted it in Cook's front yard in June 2009.

"I was thinking that's a pretty nice petroglyph," said Dillon, who went to Cook's house to serve a search warrant in an unrelated case. "It was big and pretty intricate, so I had a feeling that it wasn't legal."

Turner said she was unsure of the petroglyph's age or its meaning. Images of seven bighorn sheep are etched in its front side and a similar image is on its back side.

"We know it's well over a hundred years old," Turner said, adding it could even be thousands of years old.

Leroy Howell, a member of the Pahrump Paiute Tribe, witnessed the return of the petroglyph to its original home. He equated its theft to "taking the Bible and ripping it in half."

"I'm sure it's glad to be back home itself," he said.

In imposing the six-month sentence on Cook, Senior U.S. District Judge Edward Reed Jr. acknowledged the need to deter other would-be thieves.

"It's a religious symbol of great importance to the tribal members ... I think it's part of our heritage for all of us," the judge said. "These petroglyphs are something that can never be reproduced, and they're evidence of our past history."

The case marked southern Nevada's first felony conviction under the federal Archeological Resources Protection Act since 2003.

Authorities said stolen artifacts are rarely returned to their original locations.


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