Monday 27 October 2014

120 arrested 1,300 items seized in Zhejiang's ‘biggest ever’ tomb-raiding case

Police in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province have arrested 124 people and seized around 1,300 relics in relation to 144 cases of tomb raiding which has been described as the “biggest ever” case of tomb raiding and artefact trafficking in the province’s history (James Griffiths, '120 arrested, 1,300 relics seized in Zhejiang's ‘biggest ever’ tomb-raiding case', South China Morning Post Friday, 24 October, 2014). In Shaoxing there are hundreds of ancient tombs, some of which are thousands of years old.
Archaeologists researching the burial sites first tipped off police to the tomb raiders’ activity, after which a task force was set up to track them down. More than 800 officers from across Zhejiang took part in the investigation, [...] The majority of the tomb raiders were from the nearby area, police told reporters. 
It turns out that like artefact hunters in other countries, these people have a passionate interest in history", though like them, they use it mainly to target productive sites to ddig out something from them for themselves:
Some of the hoiked artefacts recovered
“They tend to have a good understanding of the history of Shaoxing, they know where to find the tombs,” an officer with the Shaoxing municipal public security bureau told the Evening News. 
They even have special artefact hunting equipment, in their case, it's not metal detectors, but another type of artefact looting hardware:
Police said thieves used the so-called ‘Luoyang shovel’ to find the graves. Invented in 1923 by a grave digger from Luoyang, Henan province, the shovel allows for its user to extract a long section of earth without disturbing the soil structure or digging a large hole. This allows the grave robber to analyse the soil for any bits of pottery, metal or masonry that might indicate an underground tomb.
Unfortunately, artefact hunting is a serious and growing problem in China today. Grave robbery is endemic across China:
One researcher estimated in 2012 that as many as 100,000 people across the country were involved in the crime. “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,” Professor Lei Xingshan, an archaeologist at Peking University, told the Guardian.
If past form is anything to go by, antiquity collectors will postulate that the way to deal with this is for the Chinese to have a permanent armed guard, 24/7, including public holidays on every single ancient site and tomb in China to prevent looters stealing things for smugglers to smuggle. The rest of us think that the consumer end of the market has a bigger role to play in preventing gangs raising money from selling illicitly-obtained artefacts.

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