Doctor Accused of Taking Artifacts from Glacier

Hiker and tent at Hamilton Lake on High Sierra Trail, courtesy of Miguel Vieria/Flickr
Hiker and tent at Hamilton Lake on High Sierra Trail, courtesy of Miguel Vieria/Flickr. Note: the image was not taken where Bourne found the artifact.

A doctor from Mono County, California has been accused of looting Native American artifacts from a melting glacier on public and tribal lands in Death Valley National Park.

Jonathan Bourne, an anesthesiologist, was indicted on 21 counts of looting following a yearlong investigation that began after he posted photos of himself finding a wooden bow out of a receding glacier in the High Sierra. Dart points, obsidian cutting tools, stone tablets and glass beads were also among Bourne’s alleged findings. Some of these artifacts are believed to have been removed from a cremation and burial site in the Humboldt–Toiyabe National Forest.

“Collecting artifacts on public lands is not harmless fun — it’s a serious crime,” Greg Haverstock, a U.S. Bureau of Land Management archaeologist told the Los Angeles Times. “It damages archaeological records and the shared heritage of our nation. It also impacts tribal members who regard the removal of such items as sacrilegious.”

Archaeologists reported wood splinters they found in the glacier matched the wood in Bourne’s bow. Investigators from the U.S. Forest Service found about 30,000 ancient items in a search of his mansion, according to authorities.

Bob Burd, a resident of Fresno who organised the hike where Bourne found the bow, wrote on a hiking club website that Bourne used stones to cut through the ice that surrounded the bow. No mention has been made of which Native American community the bow comes from.

Bourne’s lawyer, Mark Coleman said Bourne “spotted a piece of wood, which appeared to be recently exposed from an ice patch as a result of global warming. Recognizing that if the item had any historical significance it would quickly decay from exposure, Dr. Bourne recovered the item.”

Last week, the doctor pleaded not guilty in court and will return before the judge later this year. If convicted, Bourne’s charges could amount to 98 years in prison and $2.03 million in fines. It is not the first case to address the unlawful removal of Native American artifacts from public and tribal lands.

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