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95% of Ancient Chinese tombs looted – archaeologists are chasing tomb raiders

January 3, 2012
Workers excavate a 1,700-year old brick tomb in China’s Jiangsu province. But often thieves get there first, sometimes just bulldozing their way in. Photograph: AP


The theft and trade in stolen Chinese antiquities appears to be growing in scale and impact.  According to archaeologist Professor Lei Xingshan at Peking University: “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.”  A more complete picture of the current problem appears in China’s tomb raiders laying waste to thousand of years of history in the Guardian.

One of the most astonishing, outrageous and egregious examples of plunder is the theft of a 27-ton (!) sarcophagus:

The sheer size as well as value of the relics demonstrates the audacity of the raiders – last year, the Chinese authorities recovered a 27-tonne sarcophagus that had been stolen from Xi’an and shipped to the US.

It took four years of searching before China identified the collector who had bought the piece – from the tomb of Tang dynasty concubine Wu Huifei – for an estimated $1m (£650,000), and secured its return.

Stolen 27-ton sarcophagus returned to China.

Here’s the China Daily story about that tomb’s theft and return courtesy AsiaOne.

For more commentary on this issue, it’s worth reading archaeologist Paul Barford’s Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues.

And, as always, I am indebted to Ton Cremers at the Museum Security Network for making sure this and other related issues are brought to our collective attention.

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