Thousands of artifacts at occupied Ore. refuge
Thousands of archaeological artifacts — and maps detailing where more can be found — are kept inside the national wildlife refuge buildings currently being held by an armed group of protesters angry over federal land policy.
Ryan Bundy, one of the leaders of the group occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon, says they have no real interest in the antiquities. Still, their access to the artifacts and maps has some worried that looters could take advantage of the situation.
“There’s a huge market for artifacts, especially artifacts that have provenance, where you can identify where they came from,” said Carla Burnside, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s refuge archeologist.
More than 300 recorded prehistoric sites are scattered across the refuge, including burial grounds, ancient villages and petroglyphs. Some of the artifacts — including spears, stone tools, woven baskets and beads — date back 9,800 years.
The artifacts and remains came from ancestors of the Burns Paiute Tribe. Chairwoman Charlotte Rodrique says she feels helpless knowing that her tribe’s cultural heritage is now in the hands of the armed group.
“As far as I’m concerned, our history is just another hostage,” Rodrique said.
The tribe has sent a letter to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U. S. attorney for Oregon, Billy Williams, asking that members of the armed group be prosecuted if any artifacts or maps are damaged or missing.
WHY AREN’T THE RELICS AT A MUSEUM?
About 7,000 artifacts and samples from the refuge are kept at a museum in Eugene, Ore. But 4,000 more are kept at the refuge for research.
Only Burnside has a key to the room containing the artifacts and the maps. She’s since seen pictures of the occupiers in her office, adjacent to the room where the artifacts are stored. The group has been looking through government files at the site, but it is unclear if they’ve gone through the room with the artifacts. Bundy told The Associated Press that he’s seen the artifacts and lots of maps, but he didn’t knowwhat the maps illustrated.
The artifacts and maps are legally protected by the 1979 Archeological Resources Protection Act and other federal laws.
WHAT ABOUT THE PREHISTORIC SITES?
Scientists are also worried about unintentional damage that could be done to the prehistoric sites by cattle, vehicles and heavy equipment.
The group at the ranch has driven road graders and other large construction equipment around the refuge headquarters buildings, but Bundy said Thursday they haven’t used the machinery to move any earth. He wouldn’t rule out that possibility, however.
In 2014, Ryan Bundy and supporters of the Bundy family rode ATVs on federal land closed to motorized vehicles in Utah as part of a protest. Their route took them along an illegal trail that crossed through American Indian archeological sites.