Tomb raiders unearth new marketplace

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The old warlord, infamous for backstabbing and bloodletting, can hardly complain. When Chinese state television broadcast a live excavation this month of the tomb of General Cao Cao, the destruction found inside confirmed that tomb robbers had beaten archaeologists to the underground site.
Back in the third century, Cao Cao organized his soldiers into a treasure-hunting, tomb-raiding division. These days, the Chinese government threatens the death penalty for stealing cultural relics, yet this history-obsessed country still struggles to protect its rich historical legacy from a surge in an ancient trade: tomb raiding.

As China grows more prosperous, more Chinese are taking up antique collecting, and the growing demand is often met by fakes or tomb robbing, says antiques expert Wu Shu, 60.

Tomb raiding is "the worst in 20 years, when the antique collection market started" in China, he says. Government figures suggest that from 200,000 to 300,000 ancient tombs have been raided in the past two decades, "but the reality far exceeds that number," says Wu, who agrees with a Chinese Academy of Social Sciences estimate that tomb robbers number more than 100,000. "When I speak to the leaders of archaeological teams, they tell me, 'Of 10 tombs, nine are empty,' " Wu says....

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