Oregon State Police have seized dozens of Native American artifacts, some more than 5,000 years old, that were collected illegally and likely bound for the black market, authorities said on Tuesday.
Among the items seized from a house in Klamath Falls were articles used during Indian funeral ceremonies and other items of cultural significance, Oregon State Police Sergeant Randall Hand said. No human remains were discovered.
A prolonged drought has dried up parts of a regional watershed in the Klamath Basin in southern Oregon and Northern California, exposing archaeological areas normally concealed by water, Hand said.
"These were tribal artifacts, and we believe that most of those that we've collected were from 200 years to 5,000 years old, or older," he said.
Hand said members of Oregon's Klamath Tribes had helped in a seven-month investigation into the archaeological disappearances from public lands.
Police said dozens of artifacts were reclaimed from the house, but did not provide an exact count.
Officials with the Klamath County District Attorney's office said they could not comment on the case or any pending charges.
Oregon law requires that anyone removing archaeological objects from public or private lands obtain permits, state police said.
Some researchers have complied with those requirements during the recent drought to gain greater understanding of an area that has been reshaped by dams and artificial reservoirs.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, for example, last fall oversaw excavations at the former site of Klamath Junction, a tiny community intentionally submerged by an irrigation project in the 1960s. As water levels have fallen, building foundations and scattered debris have emerged on a muddy plain that is normally under water.
(Reporting by Courtney Sherwood; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Doina Chiacu)