Mammoth man pleads not guilty to archeological violations

Press release from the Department of Justice

Office of the United States Attorney
Eastern District of California
United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner

FRESNO, Calif. — Jonathan Cornelius Bourne, 59, of Mammoth Lakes, was arraigned today before United States Magistrate Judge Barbara A. McAuliffe after a federal grand jury returned a 21-count indictment against him, charging him with violations of the Archeological Resources Protection Act, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.


According to counts one through eight of the indictment, in 2010 and 2011, Bourne transported archeological resources from Nevada into California that were found on public lands and were over 100 years old. Among the items removed were obsidian biface tools, Steatite pendants, and glass beads allegedly removed from a tribal cremation and burial site. Counts nine through 14 charge Bourne with unauthorized excavation and removal damage or defacement of archaeological resources in Death Valley National Park, Inyo National Forest, and Sierra National Forest. The Native American cultural artifacts taken in 2010, 2011, and 2014, such as dart points, stone tablets, and a juniper bow stave were over 100 years old.

According to counts 15 through 20 in the indictment, Bourne willfully injured property of the United States by excavating, removing damaging and defacing cultural artifacts on land administered by the United States Forest Service and the National Park Service in the Counties of Mono, Inyo, and Fresno.

“This indictment shows that the prohibited acts including the unauthorized damage, alteration, excavation, and removal of archaeological resources on federally managed public lands is a serious matter,” said U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Special Agent Mike Grate.  “We want to thank all the agencies involved for all the hard work in bringing this to closure.”

At the arraignment, Bourne pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released on his own recognizance. His next court hearing is a status conference before United States Magistrate Judge Sheila K. Oberto on December 7, 2015.

This case is the product of an investigation by the United States Forest Service, National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. Assistant United States Attorney Laurel J. Montoya is prosecuting the case.

If convicted, Bourne faces a maximum statutory penalty of 98 years in prison and a $2,030,000 fine. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. The charges are only allegations; the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

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44 Responses to Mammoth man pleads not guilty to archeological violations

  1. Justin Case October 13, 2015 at 11:08 pm #

    Take pictures.
    Taking pictures is what got the good Dr. All caught up. If he had kept his “treasures” in his private collection hemail wouldn’t have been caught. But like the bank robber with their profile pictures of them rolling in a bed full of cash, someone reported Dr. Bourne FB account because of his pictures of these artifacts and he got busted. Old cans, square headed nails are one thing, but I think we all know that Indian artifacts are too questionable to just take without permission.

  2. BobK October 10, 2015 at 8:51 pm #

    I’ve heard that many people have a copy of that code on them at all times while out “exploring” I’ve heard that only in Ca. have authorities made a big deal out of stopping Arrowhead hunting on public lands….Only what I’ve heard….I’m not an expert

  3. sickofwhiners October 9, 2015 at 9:56 am #

    Has anyone bothered to read the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979? You will be surprised about what can be “picked up” after all.

    • Numbers October 9, 2015 at 12:44 pm #

      Just read it. There is an exemption for arrowheads.
      16 U.S. Code § 470ee – Prohibited acts and criminal penalties
      g) Removal of arrowheads located on ground surface
      Nothing in subsection (d) of this section shall be deemed applicable to any person with respect to the removal of arrowheads located on the surface of the ground.
      I never knew that!

  4. Tim Bue October 7, 2015 at 8:13 pm #

    I took an old whiskey bottle from an old trash heap near Mono Mills a long time ago. Immediately my luck went bad. After a few days I took it back and placed it where I found it. I think part of Mr Bourne’s punishment should be returning all the artifacts to the sites where he found them.

  5. John Barton October 7, 2015 at 4:22 pm #

    Going into any number of locals’ homes, especially the old timers, and you’ll likely find obsidian arrowheads on display. I can think of four folks who have large grinding rocks in their yards. What if they didn’t collect themselves but were given them? Is possession a crime or only if proven they collected the artifacts themselves?

    • Doug October 8, 2015 at 7:03 am #

      @John Barton: Proving collection and intent in ARPA cases is always very difficult. Most of the time, even if found guilty the defendant gets a slap on the wrist and a minimal fine. “Legacy” collections as we call what you refer to would be almost impossible to track down. ARPA is more concerned with the illegal gathering of artifacts from public land and less with possession of artifacts with unknown provenience. I personally have never heard of anyone being prosecuted for having possession of a legacy collection from say their parents or grandparents. Years ago collecting artifacts was generally more accepted and was a popular thing to do in many communities.

      • Scared2Bme October 8, 2015 at 9:27 pm #

        Doug…Check the Sierra Wave archives for March 13.2013 and the 18th. BLM found an older gentleman in the desert digging up old bottles, went to his house WITHOUT a warrant and took ALL his purple bottles and he was prosecuted. Explain to me HOW they determined which bottles were actually removed from public land and which ones were traded, bought, or gifted.

    • High_Desert October 8, 2015 at 5:12 pm #

      Yes John Barton many people have collections. Many will tell you they collected them before it was illegal. Problem is that the Antiquities Act was passed in 1906, not many folks walking around were capable of collecting in say 1905……technically possessing artifacts that came from federal lands and were not removed under permit is a crime:possession of stolen government property. That being said if you are not out looting nothing will likely come out of it. Continue to loot, get caught, and you could be in the same boat as the good doctor.

      It is time to recognize that cultures evolve. Do we really want the standard to be “we’ve been up to that for years”? Segregation, slavery, women’s suffrage, there is a long list of activities that were accepted as the norm back in the day that we no longer tolerate. Looting was seen as the destruction of our collective heritage way back in 1906…..time for our culture to catch up with the forward looking legislators of the early 1900s.

  6. High_Desert October 7, 2015 at 2:41 pm #

    Scared2beme You are dead wrong on both statements: ” A hundred years ago it was TRASH,LITTER,REFUSE,WASTE…now, if you trip on it and pick it up, it’s buys you time in a federal lock-up… and they put more effort into this investigation than the ones that involve the mexican cartels growing drugs in our national forests. Am I the only one that see’s a problem here with federal law enforcement priorities”.

    As long as you don’t alter, remove, damage, destroy or excavate you can pick up, photograph, examine, and enjoy archaeological resources with no fear. Yes, some cultural resources were once trash….even feces! That doesn’t minimize the ability of these items to inform us about our collective heritage. Recently in eastern Oregon human feces were dated to nearly 15,000 years ago. This changed our understanding of the peopling of this continent. Point being, an untrained visitor to public lands does not possess the knowledge to determine which resources are important and which are not, which is why ARPA has a permitting process for legitimate archaeological investigation.

    The US Government spent well over a 18 million in direct costs, and 79 million in local LE support last year to stop marijuana cultivation on federal land. Law enforcment expenditures for all federal agencies for all cultural resource protection, monitoring, patrolling, investigation, and prosecution was 2.1 million. This figure includes USFS, NPS, USGS, BLM, USFWS etc.

  7. Low-Inyo October 7, 2015 at 10:38 am #

    Trouble…..When you go to the after-life,be sure to let all of us know where your final resting place is going to be….especially if your going to be buried with some type of momentos,like some ask to have their family members do…that way,if one of us want what your going to be buried with,we can dig you up and get it,since,as you say,”if it’s buried,what good is it to anyone ?”…

    • Trouble October 7, 2015 at 12:46 pm #

      Low_ inyo

      I hope they bury me in my back yard and upside down. So the world can kiss my …

      • Low-Inyo October 7, 2015 at 4:07 pm #

        Trouble : If they do,can I dig you up and check your pockets for money or artifacts buried along with you ?…..If they bury you face down,I won’t even have to turn you over.

      • Charles O. Jones October 8, 2015 at 4:28 pm #

        Or…we could use as a bike rack.

      • Trouble October 11, 2015 at 6:34 pm #

        Just leave my gold teeth a lone. I want ta look good, just in case I got to answer to someone important down there.

        • Low-Inyo October 12, 2015 at 2:29 pm #

          Trouble :…I’m a comin’ with a chisel and pliars !!!

  8. Trouble October 7, 2015 at 8:01 am #

    I don’t know Charles. If it is buried, what good is it to anyone? It’s not the same as grave robbing.

    • John October 7, 2015 at 8:57 am #

      Artifacts are better put in Museums and used for educational purposes

    • Charles O. Jones October 7, 2015 at 1:23 pm #

      I don’t think it should be up to you to decide whether or not it’s good to anyone. If it doesn’t belong to you – leave it alone. If you feel compelled, take some photos and share them with the agency responsible. Let them decide. Had the esteemed doctor done that he wouldn’t be looking at the possibility of pokey time.

  9. Mammothite October 6, 2015 at 7:57 pm #

    I remember when the BLM and USFS handed out maps on where to hunt for arrowheads.

  10. Charles O. Jones October 6, 2015 at 7:17 pm #

    My parents taught me and I passed it on to my kids:
    If it doesn’t belong to you, leave it where it is.

    Simple advice that will generally keep you out of trouble.

  11. Doug October 6, 2015 at 12:41 pm #

    @Scared2Bme: The definition of an artifact differs depending on which agency administers the land. Department of the Interior (NPS, BIA, BLM) considers artifacts as cultural remains at least 100 years old. Department of Agriculture (NFS) considers artifacts as cultural remains at least 50 years old. Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) only applies to artifacts at least 100 years old. If you are on public land anything that is at least 100 years old is definitely protected by ARPA (especially Native American material). As to your question, even that medicine bottle from 1912 is protected by ARPA and it would be illegal to take it. Artifactual material on public land is considered to be owned by the entire public and therefore should be left in-place for the public to enjoy. Sometimes permits are granted for excavation and removal of artifacts to repositories such as by universities and/or museums.
    @Trouble: If you come across an artifact it is ok to take photos of it if you want, but leave the artifact in-place. If it seems to be something of real significance, notify the archaeologist/cultural resource manager in charge of the area you are at. They will probably want to record the find and more than likely give you credit in the site forms for the discovery.

    • Scared2Bme October 8, 2015 at 9:53 pm #

      There are those that could argue that since ARPA was written in 1906, and protects anything 100 years old or more, that could mean that anything from 1806 or older would fall under the law, RIGHT ? SOOOOOOOOOOOOO, my bottle from 1912 would have only been SIX years old in 1906, when the law was written, correct ?

  12. Low-Inyo October 6, 2015 at 12:26 pm #

    …and “Trouble”….I’m thinking if you (allegedly) get to a burial site with shovel in hand and start digging, I’m not so sure that should be seen as “coming across” an artifact…maybe it”s just my thinking,but if your walking in the desert,find one of those old purple bottles,if you pick it up,take it home,and display it on your fireplace mantle,I doubt you’ll get your doors busted down in one of those “SWAT” raids,arrested,taken away in handcuffs,and charged with a felony.

  13. Low-Inyo October 6, 2015 at 11:02 am #

    Scared2Beme….Don’t know for sure the definition of “artifacts”…but a good bet if you dig up and into a burial site from over 100 years old,what you find is probably an artifact that should be left alone…one thing to maybe find an old bottle lying in the desert….a whole nother thing to dig into a burial ground and thinking what you find is yours….common sense..with that one,if the Law and National Park Service don’t get you KARMA will.

  14. duh October 6, 2015 at 10:31 am #

    leave ’em where you found ’em. being a good doctor did not prevent him from
    being accused of grave robbing

  15. Trouble October 6, 2015 at 6:17 am #

    O.k., so if you come across a artifact, what are you supposed to do?

    • JaneE October 6, 2015 at 9:58 am #

      If you are on public lands, and you just happen to see what you think may be an artifact lying on the ground, you should report it to a representative of the agency that manages it, so that it can be evaluated, protected or excavated properly. If you have a camera, take lots of pictures of the artifact in situ (as it is) from different angles, wide angle and close-up if possible, and try to include a common object like a coin in the picture for a size reference.

      If you are on public lands, and you see what you think may be an artifact in the hole you were digging in a grave site, you steal the thing and hope that you don’t get caught.

      If you are on public lands and you see what you think may be an artifact in a hole that someone else dug in a grave site, you report it to the managing agency and law enforcement. Pictures are good too, but the site has already been disturbed, and now you are just documenting the damage.

      • Tourbillon October 6, 2015 at 3:45 pm #

        Jane, it is charming that some people still retain uncritical trust in government, and report things like good citizens. Others feel that no good deed goes unpunished these days, and that by reporting something, you are putting yourself on report. If you think this is paranoid, you are perfectly free to report everything that crosses your radar to the proper authorities.

        As for taking or leaving…when we’re talking about committing a felony for lifting a rusty can or a used bottle from its desert location, which most lucid people would never think of as “artifacts”, I think we are relegating the concept of land of the free and home of the brave to a catchy song we sing at sporting events.

        • JaneE October 7, 2015 at 6:31 am #

          Beads are not bottles, neither are stone tools.

          Sad to say, any bottle that is purple from age is probably classed as an artifact, but if it is lying on top of the ground it probably won’t be missed and you won’t be noticed unless you have a large, recently acquired collection. You can dig on private property, with the owners permission. You need permission on public lands too, but that will only be given rarely and for a valid reason.

          And anything that is even vaguely Native American should be left alone.

    • But seriously October 6, 2015 at 10:54 am #

      But seriously, what are you supposed to do? Leave it there? Tell someone? Any ideas?

      • Scared2Bme October 6, 2015 at 8:35 pm #

        Does everyone know of the “Bodie Curse” ? I guess it’s not just limited to Bodie anymore, but the entire open spaces of the United States. Do not remove one broken piece of glass, one nail, or a single rusty can. You will forever be cursed with bad luck.
        Or, if the fed’s are onto you, you’re hosed !

    • Terry October 6, 2015 at 11:16 am #

      Trouble, the federal law, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, requires you and everyone else to leave artifacts where they are, in place. Very simple.

    • tony cumia October 6, 2015 at 5:58 pm #

      Umm, look at it , take a picture and leave it.

    • Scared2Bme October 6, 2015 at 8:29 pm #

      A hundred years ago it was TRASH,LITTER,REFUSE,WASTE…now, if you trip on it and pick it up, it’s buys you time in a federal lock-up… and they put more effort into this investigation than the ones that involve the mexican cartels growing drugs in our national forests. Am I the only one that see’s a problem here with federal law enforcement priorities ?

    • Tinner October 7, 2015 at 7:35 pm #

      Take only pictures, leave only footprints.

  16. sugarmagnolia October 5, 2015 at 8:14 pm #

    I certainly don’t know the facts of this case, I can only say, Dr. Bourne is a wonderful anesthesiologist. I’m sorry to hear that this is going on, I hope for a quick and fair resolution.

  17. Scared2Bme October 5, 2015 at 7:50 pm #

    I’d like to know the definition of “artifacts”… if I pick up an old medicine bottle that’s been laying in the desert sun since the sinking of the Titanic (1912) am I committing a FELONY ??? If so, half the population of the Owens Valley is guilty.

    • Jennifer October 6, 2015 at 3:08 pm #

      An artifact is anything that is altered by humans. That being said, if it is on Federal land and is at least 50 years old it is illegal to move it.

  18. High Water October 5, 2015 at 7:29 pm #

    @trouble you do realize that is the max. He won’t even come close to that. Guaranteed.
    As with any crime these are only allegations,.
    Innocent till proven guilty

  19. sean October 5, 2015 at 7:06 pm #

    Seems a tad ridiculous on the possible penalty. People get way less time for murder and manslaughter.

  20. Nes Lessman October 5, 2015 at 7:04 pm #

    The wealthy are INNOCENT!

  21. Trouble October 5, 2015 at 6:14 pm #

    Wow, I’m at a loss for words on this one.
    98 years? What Mason get?


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