Doctor Stealing Artifacts From Tribal Land: ‘It’s a Slap in the Face’ of Native Americans

In the great state of California a doctor confessed last summer that, yes indeed, he was guilty of routinely stealing cultural artifacts from Death Valley National Park. Who told?


Physicians and crime: what else is new? Dr Jonathan Bourne, caught in the act of a felony. Is this man YOUR doctor?


Probation? Of course!

After nearly 20 years of pilfering historical treasures for fun, Doctor Jonathan Cornelius Bourne of Mammoth Lakes, confessed on August 15, 2016. He pleaded guilty to illegal defacement, removal, excavation and taking home priceless archaeological items, according to U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert.

He also dug up and stole artifacts from the Humbolt-Toiyabe National Forest. Just doing a little creative home decorating, don’t you know. But not everybody thought it was cool.

“Cultural resources in national parks are irreplaceable. 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.” (Wanda Raschkow, archaeologist)

According to investigators in one case alone for example, on January 10, 2011, Bourne defaced a famous prehistoric site in Death Valley and removed an ancient tool carved from the horn of a bighorn sheep. Police found it in his house.

Death Valley is the homeland of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe. The tribe continues to shape the history, culture, and ecology of their ancestral homeland, in partnership with the National Park Service. And the tribe takes artifact defacing and theft far more seriously than the California court did. Because the California courts have always been snake-bite stupid, when it comes to idiots in lab coats.

It was 16 months ago – September 17, 2015 – when a federal grand jury indicted the MD on 21 charges – violations of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act in Death Valley National Park as well as other public lands. This particular nut-job could have gotten 2 years in prison and $20,000 fine for each charge. And he should have.

But not so fast. After all, this repeat felon  with a shovel is, after all, a doctor. And we all know doctors deserve to be treated differently than common citizen criminals. They wear stethoscopes, for God sakes. They’re special.

So this self-absorbed ass was sentenced to 2 years probation instead; paid $249,000 in restitution to the tribes and a $40,000 fine, as announced by U.S. Attorney Talbert.

A jaw-dropping 20,000 stolen items were recovered from his home. The daft doc admitted he had been pilfering from native American land since 1994.

Bourne is also banned from entering public lands for any recreational purposes for a while 24 months. Now there’s a nasty punishment. That oughta teach him.

“Our ancestors have lived in the Death Valley region since before written time. 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.” (Barbara Durham, historic preservation officer, Timbisha Shoshone Tribe) 

For the record, this case was investigated by the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management.  

 Here’s another look at this medical profession embarrassment:


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