Wednesday, 19 April 2017

More on the Fate of US Collector Jonathan Bourne

Jonathan Cornelius Bourne
I have discussed the case of Jonathan Bourne on this blog before ('Amateur Collector loses Artefacts'. PACHI Saturday, 12 September 2015;  'California doctor pleads guilty to looting Native American artifacts from public lands' PACHI Saturday, 20 August 2016).* There is a longish piece in the 'Adventure' section of something called Men's Journal discussing the case (Kathleen Sharp, 'How a California Anesthesiologist Became One of America’s Largest Antiquities Looters' Men's Journal  n.d.).

The article was written, one suspects by somebody who was less well-informed than she should be about the reason why these laws exist. The manner in which it is written suggests that she thinks (as most Americans do) that, rather than protecting archaeological sites, the issue is solely one of 'ownership' and therefore 'repatriation' (that name itself when applied to returning objects to other US citizens living in the same country speaks volumes for insulting US attitudes to their native communities). Placing the text in the section on 'adventure' suggests the attitude of the commissioning editor. WE therefore are treated to stuff like....
Jonathan Cornelius Bourne — even his name evokes a 19th-century explorer. Wiry, with sandy hair and a craggy, weatherworn face, he was born in Australia but grew up in Upstate New York...
Bourne was a wealthy Mammoth Lakes anesthesiologist who had filled his large house with Native American items he'd collected over the years. In 2014 he was investigated for artefact on federal land and his house was searched.
Within months, the respected anesthesiologist would find himself facing 21 felony counts and at the center of a criminal investigation that became one of the largest stolen-goods cases in the history of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). But to hear Bourne tell it, he's just a passionate collector who took a few items to ensure they weren't lost to time. [...] His defense was simply that he had not done this for himself but to preserve the objects. "He has never sought financial gain from his collection," Penny says. Rather, he had long flirted with the idea of donating his collection to a museum — although few, if any, museums accept artifacts of unknown or illegal provenance. "I did hope to donate my collection ultimately," Bourne says. 
These are all typical collector's mantras. Artefact hunters and collectors represent themselves as acquiring objects not for greed and the desire to seek self-aggrandizing trophies, but because of a 'passion', an interest in 'history' (or other cultures). Objects which have survived relatively intact (because collectable) are represented as somehow mysteriously threatened ('by time') if they are left in the ground in the intact burial context that has preserved them, collectors represent themselves as 'rescuing' the objects from this fate. While commercial collection-driven exploitation (CDE) of the archaeological record is recognized as reprehensible, somehow we are asked to believe that not-for-gain trashing archaeological sites is in some way a better form of trashing. Giving the 'Jonathan Bourne collection' a home in perpetuity in a public institution to be admired by an impressed public is represented as an act of beneficence, but is in fact yet another form of self-aggrandization and one-upmanship.  The amount of trashing involved is deplorable:
when investigators showed up at Bourne's home, they were stunned at what they found: some 30,000 relics displayed artfully in room after room. Half of them, Bourne admitted, had been taken from federal lands or Native reservations. Others had been purchased at antique stores or from other collectors. "It was top-notch stuff," says one expert. [...] The agents soon realized that they had stumbled onto one of the country's largest caches of stolen antiquities.[...] Bourne had stolen pieces from thousands of sites in four Western states: California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. 
The collector kept journals detailing his exploitative trips, many of them to national parks, they not only involved several family members and friends, 'there were other doctors, nurses, several business owners, and a prominent developer. Even a former police officer and a high school teacher had apparently been with Bourne when he broke the law'.
After a yearlong investigation, a federal grand jury indicted Bourne on 21 felony counts, including looting, possessing, and transporting stolen government property and artifacts from national parks, national forests, the BLM, and several tribal lands. He faced a maximum of 98 years in prison and a $2 million fine. [...] Bourne also stood to lose his medical license. And because his journals named his two grown children, now physicians, they could possibly lose theirs, too. [...] In August 2016, after months of negotiating, Bourne struck a deal with the federal attorney overseeing the case: He pleaded guilty to two of the 21 counts and faced a maximum of two years in prison. [...] In the end, however, Bourne received only two years of probation and was ordered to pay $249,372 in restitution and a $40,000 fine. [His medical license is up for review this month.] When the court adjourned, he wrote a check for the full amount. To preservationists and Native American leaders, Bourne's court-approved plea deal was a slap in the face. [...] It will take years for the pieces, now at California State University in Sacramento, to be repatriated properly. Bourne was not happy with the judgment, either. "It's not a good deal," he told me. "I escaped prison, but I still think that the scope of the problem and the things I had done are not commensurate with the punishment. I have to pay a lot of money!"
He need not worry, the full cost of matching the artefacts to the sites they came from will cost more than the nine dollars he paid for each of them, and the tax-payer of California will be paying the rest of the sum required to attempt to in some small part rectify the effects of his misdeeds.

* This is not to be confused with the issue of the John Bourne collection (here, here and here)

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