The US has returned to China an ancient stone coffin from the Tang Dynasty after a four year investigation to track down the rare artifact that had been smuggled into the US.
Xi’an police discovered that the coffin had been unearthed and stolen back in February 2006, an two years later found out that it had been dismantled and sold to an American antique dealer for a million US dollars.
Following negotiation with the US government and the buyer, the coffin was finally located and has been returned to China’s Administration of Cultural Heritage and is now on display at the Shaanxi History Museum.
The artifact is a Tang Dynasty stone coffin of Imperial Concubine Wuhai and is incredibly rare and well preserved.
“As far as I know, this is the largest and most beautifully built cultural relic to have been discovered from the Tang Dynasty,” Shi Xiaoqun, Shaanxi History Museum said in a CNTV report.
Another art dealer in the US at faced a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a 250,000 US dollar fine after he forged documents in an attempt to legitimize an illegal shipment of ancient Chinese artifacts discovered in June 2011, according to NBC News.
In 2009, the US and China signed an agreement making it illegal to import archeological materials dating from China’s Paleolithic Period to the end of the Tang period unless the importer received government approval.
The black market for ancient cultural relics is booming in China. In 2012, police in China’s Hubei province arrested three leaders and 20 accomplices of a smuggling ring allegedly involved in tomb raiding and relic thefts and were able to recover 198 ancient artifacts from the black market.