SOUTH LAKE TAHOE (CBS13) — Tens of thousands of Native American artifacts are in federal custody after being located inside a single South Lake Tahoe home.
Federal agents arrested Timothy Brian Harrison for looting public land. The arrest followed a years-long investigation in the Sierra Nevada where feds say Harrison dug the artifacts up illegally.
A single snapshot entered into evidence shows what federal agents describe as a treasure trove of Native American artifacts looted from the archeological sites.
Miriam Hinman is one of the federal prosecutors that handled the case. Hinman also has a master’s degree in archeology and chose to be on this case because of her passion for examining artifacts.
“The illegal digging, in this case, desecrated ancient sites that were important to the Washoe tribe, and were unusually valuable to archaeologists,” Hinman said.
Court documents show Harrison spent more than a decade digging up more than a dozen sites in Alpine and El Dorado County ranging from hundreds to thousands of years old.
The area is the ancestral homeland of the Washoe tribe. Darrel Cruz is the tribe’s director of historic preservation.
“Every time they take away an artifact, it takes away a piece of the history, the puzzle that makes up that history,” Cruz said.
Federal agents were tipped to the illegal digging by hikers. Court documents show investigators then began following Harrison’s movements by installing covert surveillance cameras around the archaeological sites. They also used GPS tracking on Harrison’s truck.
Eventually, court documents show they found approximately 302 pounds of artifacts in Harrison’s home. None of the artifacts were sold..
“He kept these things for himself, in his house,” Hinman said.
A massive federal investigation into looted Native American artifacts. After a decade of digging, destroying centuries of archeological evidence, Harrison has pled guilty and has been sentenced to a year and a day in prison.
The federal government is working with the Washoe tribe on finding the appropriate place to house those artifacts.