South Lake Tahoe man sentenced for digging up Washoe artifacts
Nearly seven years after he was caught digging up ancient Washoe artifacts, a South Lake Tahoe man was sentenced Feb. 26 to spend a year in prison for illegal excavation and removal of archaeological resources.
Timothy Brian Harrison, 50, must also make $113,000 restitution, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
A group of rock climbers reported Harrison was digging at a popular Hope Valley climbing area in September 2012, as previously reported by the Tribune.
The climbers confronted him about digging up the area more than once before reporting him to the Alpine County Sheriff’s Office.
Harrison’s vehicle was located by a California Department of Fish and Game warden, which led to the recovery of several artifacts.
Darrel Cruz, who was then director of the Washoe Tribe’s Historic Preservation Office, declined to describe the items, but said they were from the ancestral Hung-A-Lel-Ti, or southern Washoe.
“This is very important to us because this is our heritage,” Cruz said. “By this action that happened, it kind of erased some of our past.”
According to court documents, Harrison conducted illegal digging at prehistoric Native American archaeological sites on federal lands in Alpine and El Dorado Counties, near Lake Tahoe. He collected tens of thousands of ancient artifacts from multiple archaeological sites, and virtually destroyed two very significant archaeological sites.
Archaeologists explained that Harrison’s conduct led to the irreplaceable loss of unique historical information. Archaeologists learn the cultural history of the prior inhabitants from artifacts left behind by the inhabitants by carefully documenting where the artifacts are found, and looting of the artifacts destroys that context.
Representatives of the Washoe Tribe of California and Nevada spoke about the impact on the tribe from this destruction of sites. They explained that Harrison’s digging erased their past and interfered with the tribe’s ability to teach younger generations about their history and culture.
This case was the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, California State Fish & Wildlife Service, California Highway Patrol, and Alpine County Sheriff’s Department.
Harrison is out of custody and was ordered to self-surrender to begin serving his sentence on April 23.