China Tomb Raiders

China tomb raiders rescued, then arrested

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Two grave robbers ran into some bad luck on Monday when they became trapped in a burial chamber they were trying to rob and had to be rescued by police, who subsequently detained them.

The pair was among five suspected thieves who had broken into a Chinese Tang dynasty tomb in the northern province of Shaanxi.  They were excavating a grave which was among a cluster of emperors’ mausoleums that dated back to the period 618 – 907 AD.

However, two of them became stuck in a chamber 20 metres underground and were trapped there for more than 24 hours.  Fearing the structure could collapse or they could suffocate from lack of oxygen, a rescue team was called in to pull them out.

Police arrive and pulled out the thieves from a crack at the top of the chamber and all five suspects were later detained.

Tomb raiding is a huge problem in China where thieves are using increasingly aggressive and sophisticated methods to extract the wealth of relics buried underground from China’s ancient civilizations, including dynamite and even bulldozers. Artefacts are then sold on the black market within days to international dealers.

Experts say the problem became worse as China's economy opened up, with domestic and international collectors creating a huge market for thieves.  According to the Ministry of Public Security, police investigated 451 tomb-raiding cases in 2010 and another 387 involving the theft of relics.

But international collectors bear as much responsibility for the crimes as the actual thieves as the high prices they offer create the incentive for criminals to exploit and destroy the country’s extraordinary historical treasures.

By John Black

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