Authorities recover thousands of archaeological artifacts taken from Lake Oroville
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California State Park Rangers contacted a man last month who was allegedly seen taking the items from areas at the Lake Oroville Recreation Area, said Aaron Wright, Lake Oroville sector superintendent for State Parks. As a result, a looting case was started.
On Monday, rangers served a search warrant at the man’s Feather Falls residence and reportedly seized more than 2,000 items, Wright said.
This is the most extensive case of disturbance and theft of artifacts from Lake Oroville that District Attorney Mike Ramsey has ever seen, he said. The case is being taken “extremely seriously.”
The man, who is not being identified by authorities, was issued a citation and the District Attorney’s Office will determine if charges will be filed, he said.
This person has been collecting items for about 20 years, said Leslie Steidl, State Parks archeologist. The items represent a small amount of the Maidu material culture in the area.
The majority of the artifacts recovered are known as stone flakes or chips. Many are “projectile points,” arrowheads or dart points.
A variety of other items from various materials and time periods were also found, according to State Parks.
State regulations, as well as other federal laws, protect items of cultural significance from being removed from public land.
“Cultural resources are protected on all public lands,” Steidl said. “And this collection was taken by an individual and kept in his home, but it existed in State Park land, so it belongs to the citizens of the state of California.”
When an artifact is removed from an area, the item loses its ability to give archaeologists prehistory of the people who lived there, she said. And in this case, the Maidu people lose the ability to show their presence on the land, Steidl added.
California State Parks has seen a recent rise in looting because the water is low at Lake Oroville, Wright said. Staff have been actively searching for people who are taking items.
Wright said the investigation was a collaborative effort by many agencies, including the District Attorney’s Office, and he’s glad to see the items have been recovered.
The artifacts for now have been secured and are being placed in evidence until the case is closed, Wright said. Once the investigation is resolved, the artifacts may go to the Department of Water Resources.
“Regardless, we’re going to consult with the Native American Task Force to find out what they would like to see done with this,” Wright said.
Steidl said if people come across an artifact, they can pick it up and take a photograph of the item, but to put it back where it was found.