Chinese police have caught 175 looters who broke into a Neolithic archaeological site in what officials are calling the country's biggest recovery of stolen artifacts.

The Ministry of Public Security announced Tuesday that the operation rescued 1,168 cultural relics worth more than 500 million yuan, or about $80 million.

The looters are suspected of illegally excavating in Niuheliang, a site in northeastern Liaoning province that includes tombs and other facilities, the ministry said. Authorities found artifacts such as a coiled jade dragon, which is one of the earliest known representations of the mythological creature.

The ministry said the looters were split into 10 gangs that handled everything from site excavation to sales. More than 1,000 police from six provinces took part in the recovery operation.

The statement did not say when the recovery operation took place.