A Cortez man was sentenced Wednesday for damaging a ceremonial ancestral Puebloan archaeological site in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and removing artifacts.
Lonnie Shadrick Winbourn, 57, was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Durango to one year in federal prison and ordered to pay $3,765 in restitution to the Bureau of Land Management for site restoration.
Winbourn pleaded guilty to the charge of violating the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.
“The closure of this case sends a message that removing cultural resources is against the law,” said Connie Clementson, manager of the BLM’s Tres Rios Field Office, which includes the monument. “We are charged with protecting cultural resources on the monument, and we take it very seriously.”
According to court documents, Winbourn made several trips into Sandstone Canyon, northwest of Cortez, between May 2017 and June 4, 2017.
Winbourn illegally excavated a site, removed artifacts, and damaged and altered the site, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. He was indicted by a federal grand jury on Dec. 6, 2019.
During trips into the canyon, Winbourn discovered previously unknown archaeological resources, including an ancestral Puebloan ceremonial site with a large dance plaza, a likely subterranean kiva and multiple Native American burials.
On June 4, 2017, while leaving the site on his 1983 red Honda motorcycle, Winbourn was pulled over by BLM Law Enforcement Ranger Tyler Fouss for illegally riding a motorcycle. He was subsequently arrested on an unrelated warrant.
During the arrest, Fouss identified pottery shards in Winbourn’s pocket. Winbourn admitted he had additional artifacts in his backpack, and gave consent for it to be searched, court records show.
Law enforcement discovered 64 items from the ancestral Puebloan period in Winbourn’s possession, including jewelry, an ax head, grinders and other tools. Winbourn did not have a permit to excavate the site.
“The reason the monument was designated was to protect cultural sites,” Fouss said. “We are always patrolling and watching to protect archaeological resources.”
Archaeologists with Canyons of the Ancients National Monument have restored the site and curated the stolen objects.
Clementson said monument officials will consult with Native American tribes on what should be done with the recovered artifacts from the site. They may be reburied or repatriated to tribes.
“The density of cultural sites on the monument is unique in the world. They represent people’s lives and their past, and they must be respected and protected,” Clementson said.
Monument officials remind the public that they are free to explore the monument, but to only carefully observe archaeological sites and leave artifacts alone.
“We as a society must recognize the importance of respecting all cultures, including those artifacts representing cultural resources of Native Americans. The protection of Native American cultural resources continues to be a matter central to law enforcement officers and special agents of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management,” said Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge Randall Carpenter, of the BLM’s law enforcement office.
The sentence was handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Robert E. Blackburn.
To prevent looting, the BLM relies on the public to help out. To report cultural and natural resource crimes and suspicious activity, call the BLM Law Enforcement Tip Line at (833) 660-5771 toll free. Or email at TRFOtipline@blm.com