California doctor sentenced for removing artifacts from Death Valley, other protected lands

A California doctor was sentenced last week for damaging lands and taking artifacts from public lands including Death Valley National Park.

Jonathan Cornelius Bourne, 59, Mammoth Lakes, California, was given two years probation, a $40,000 fine and ordered to pay $249,372 in restitution for felony violations of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.

Acting U.S. Attorney Philip A. Talbert announced the charges and added that Bourne is also banned from entering federal public lands for recreational purposes while serving his probation.

On Aug. 15, Bourne, an anesthesiologist, pleaded guilty to unauthorized transportation of archaeological resources and unauthorized excavation, removal, damage, or defacement of archaeological resources.

Since 1994 Bourne collected an estimated 20,000 archaeological items from public lands, documenting each item the entire time.

He voluntarily turned over those items to the government. The restitution will be used to cover the costs of curating and storing the relics.

The plea agreement said on Oct. 14, 2010, Bourne altered a small prehistoric site, cremation site, and burial cairns in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

He removed glass trade beads and took them to his home in Mammoth Lakes, California.

On Jan. 10, 2011, Bourne altered a large prehistoric site in Death Valley and removed a tool made from a bighorn sheep horn and three incised stone tablets, which he also transported to his home.

During his sentencing, U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill said that the damage caused by Bourne could not be undone no matter what sentence was imposed.

He went on to say the case highlighted the importance of educating others about the significance of the sacred Native American cultural resources and the protection of the Native American cultural sites.

“Death Valley is the homeland of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe. Dr. Bourne didn’t just steal their heritage; he stole from all Americans when he removed these artifacts from the park,” said Mike Reynolds, Death Valley National Park superintendent. “I’m relieved that he has been sentenced and is paying restitution to help us curate the artifacts. I hope this will help deter other people from desecrating important cultural resources that help tell our nation’s history. However, we’ve permanently lost information that could have been learned if the artifacts had never been moved.”

This case was a joint venture and was investigated by the United States Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. Assistant United States Attorney Laurel J. Montoya prosecuted the case.

Contact reporter Mick Akes at Follow @mickakers on Twitter.