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Man pleads guilty to taking artifacts from Death Valley

A California doctor pleaded guilty to a pair of counts related to taking archaeological resources from Death Valley National Park and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

Jonathan Cornelius Bourne, 59, from Mammoth Lakes, California pleaded two counts of unauthorized excavation, removal, transportation, damage or defacement of archaeological resources, Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

The two guilty pleas were for actions in Death Valley National Park and the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

The maximum penalty for each count is two years in prison and $20,000 in fines. Bourne is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 7 in U.S. District Court.

Bourne is also banned from entering public lands administered by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for three years.

“It feels great to have a conviction in this major case,” said Mike Reynolds, superintendent of Death Valley National Park.

Bourne, an avid collector of artifacts and archaeological resources, voluntarily turned over an estimated 20,000 archaeological items to the government that he collected from public lands.

He has agreed to pay $249,372 in restitution to the U.S., which will go toward curating the artifacts.

“Cultural resources in national parks are irreplaceable,” said Wanda Raschkow, an archaeologist in Death Valley National Park. “When someone takes something like a bottle from a mining site or an arrowhead, it breaks the link to the stories of that place. It robs all of us of our connection to the past.”

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 that are over 100 years old, which were found in Bourne’s home, the plea agreement stated.

Death Valley is the homeland of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe, which continues to shape the history, culture, and ecology of their ancestral homeland in partnership with the National Park Service.

“Our ancestors have lived in the Death Valley region since before written time,” said Barbara Durham, tribal historic preservation officer for the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe. “The Timbisha people identify ourselves by our art, our being, our obligation to take care of the lands and to continue our traditions and customs.

“The Timbisha Shoshone Tribe is very distressed about the actions of Jonathan Bourne, who took it upon himself to destroy a large prehistoric site here in Death Valley National Park, the homelands of the Timbisha Shoshone. Our ancestors left their message (in their homelands), for our members and the general public to enjoy and cherish. When theft occurs, it not only hurts the tribe, but everybody. ”

Durham went on to reprehend Bourne’s actions, by questioning if he knew the severity of what they meant to the tribe.

“Destruction of cultural sites are being threatened all the time, people want to take something home with them, not understanding the value of what they take or destroy or what it means to the native people who live on their lands with the belief our cultural sites are being protected for the next generations to come,” she said.

To avoid anything of this magnitude taking place again, Death Valley is stepping up the watch on their end and is also asking for the public’s help as well.

“We plan to increase our backcountry patrols and are installing monitoring equipment at some of the more sensitive locations,” Reynolds said. “We need your help as you visit the park. If you see something that doesn’t seem right, please notify a park ranger.”

This case is the product of an multi-agency investigation including the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. Assistant United States Attorney Laurel J. Montoya is prosecuting the case.

Contact reporter Mick Akers at makers@pvtimes.com. Follow @mickakers on Twitter.

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