A total of 175 grave-robbers have been arrested and almost 1,200 cultural relics recovered in a recent sting, reports NetEase. The Ministry of Public Security revealed the haul yesterday, after authorities busted suspects involved in illegal excavations in Niuheliang, a Neolithic site in northeastern Liaoning province.
The illicit operation was apparently well-organised, comprising of 10 gangs with a clear demarcation of labour, and enjoyed the employ of four archaeologists.
It is believed that underground artifact dealers did real-time business at the excavation site, with some ancient treasures fetching millions of yuan on the black market. One of the accused is alleged to have sold a stolen coiled jade dragon for 3.2 million yuan (US$515,000). Authorities estimate the total value of the looted items to be more than 500 million RMB (US$80 million).
While potentially lucrative, raiding China’s ancient tombs can be a risky venture. In 2013, grave-robbers in Xi’an suffocated to death after becoming trapped. Meanwhile, a Henan man has conducted an excavation of his own (albeit seeking something with slightly less grandeur) as he digs a 3 metre hole in his living room to find a deposit passbook he claims his wife hid under the floor before she died.
By Liam Bourke