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China’s tomb raiders lay waste to history

China’s extraordinary historical treasures are under threat from increasingly aggressive and sophisticated tomb raiders, who destroy precious archaeological evidence as they swipe irreplaceable relics.

world Updated: Jan 03, 2012 00:12 IST

China’s extraordinary historical treasures are under threat from increasingly aggressive and sophisticated tomb raiders, who destroy precious archaeological evidence as they swipe irreplaceable relics.

The thieves use dynamite and even bulldozers to break into the deepest chambers — and night vision goggles and oxygen canisters to search them. The artefacts they take are often sold on within days to international dealers.

Police have already stepped up their campaign against the criminals and the government is devoting extra resources to protecting sites and tracing offenders. This year it set up a national information centre to tackle such crimes.

“Before, China had a large number of valuable ancient tombs and although it was really depressing to see a tomb raided, it was still possible to run into a similar one in the future,” said professor Wei Zheng, an archaeologist at Peking University. “Nowadays too many have been destroyed. Once one is raided, it is really difficult to find a similar one.”

His colleague, professor Lei Xingshan, said: “We used to say nine out of 10 tombs were empty because of tomb-raiding, but now it has become 9.5 out of 10.”
Their team found more than 900 tombs in one part of Shanxi they researched and almost every one had been raided.

According to the ministry of public security, police investigated 451 tomb-raiding cases in 2010 and another 387 involving the theft of relics. In the first six months of that year, they smashed 71 gangs, detained 787 suspects and recovered 2,366 artefacts.

Those caught face fines and jail terms of three to 10 years, or life in the most serious cases.

The Guardian