Tomb Raiders Bulldoze Han-Dynasty Grave Sites

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Unidentified tomb raiders hit more than 10 ancient tomb sites Monday in east Jiangsu Province, using bulldozers, and stealing most of the articles they unearthed, in an unprecedented sacking of the country's cultural relics, local archaeologists said.

The incident came almost a month after the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences claimed a major discovery of the tomb of Cao Cao, a renowned warlord and politician in the 3rd century AD, in central China.

Although the authenticity of Cao Cao's tomb in Anyang, Henan, remains in question, the discovery seems to have reactivated interest in archaeology across the nation, with television programs about antiquities attracting enthusiasts.

Pieces of coffins made of valuable and rare Nanmu wood, as well as pottery and iron items, were seen scattered across an area of 1,000 square meters at the ravaged tomb site, located in Gucheng town in Gaochun county of Nanjing, the provincial capital, adjacent to the construction site of an expressway.

Judging from some of the items left by the robbers, Puyang Kangjing, a history scholar at the local museum, said Wednesday that the tombs date from the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD).

"The coffins were made with high-quality and rare wood, which indicates that the owners of the tombs were nobles," Puyang was quoted as saying by the Nanjing-based Yangtze Evening Post.

The bulldozer raid was the first of its kind and the most destructive in the country, an unnamed archeologist with the Nanjing Museum was quoted by the paper as saying Wednesday.

Further excavation of the tombs that could date back 2,000 years is impossible, as they have been almost completely destroyed, local archeologists told the paper. The raiders specifically targeted the tombs using heavy machinery, said an official surnamed Wang, from the Gaochun county department of cultural relics protection.

Jiang Wenhui, a local police officer, told the Global Times Wednesday that he discovered the remains Monday while on routine patrol.

"I immediately informed the local cultural relics protection departments, as I had been told by some construction workers that they'd unearthed some items such as bronze mirrors during an ongoing road construction," Jiang said.

The local government halted the expansion project of the road after the incident, but no specific protective measures were taken, and the tombs were left unattended, Jiang said.

A police investigation is underway, and efforts to retrieve the stolen articles are ongoing, Jiang said.

Yuan Zhongyi, an archeologist and the former curator of the Terracotta Warriors Museum in Xi'an, the capital city of Shaanxi Province, said the incident was shocking.

"I never heard that tomb robbery could be conducted so blatantly. It will completely devastate the layers of the earth, and will cause irreversible damage to those ancient relics," Yuan told the Global Times. "Tomb robberies are not rare in China, but all of them are done so secretly and imperceptibly."

Profiting from the relics unearthed was deemed the motive for the theft.

"Due to the huge profit that could be gained from a successful robbery, many people cannot resist the lure, which makes strengthening social education and cultural relic protection efforts more urgent, he said.

"Ancient tomb robbery is rampant in China. Sometimes our archeologists' job is like that of a firefighter, we rush here and there to rescue robbed, ancient tombs. Robbers' actions are prompt and highly destructive. We have to rush to the site the moment that we receive any notice that a tomb has been robbed," said Xu Weihong, the excavation team leader of the Terracotta Warriors Museum.

"Most of the Chinese ancient tomb sites are scattered in remote areas, which are hardly safeguarded," Xu said.

But Xu said most archeologists blame some of the television antique shows, as they might encourage criminal activities such as the robbery of antiques from tombs.

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