Po­lice ar­rest 175, re­cover an­cient relics worth $82m

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By LIU CE in Shenyang and PENG YINING in Bei­jing

Po­lice ar­rested 175 peo­ple sus­pected of steal­ing cul­tural relics from an­cient tombs, and 1,168 relics worth more than 500 mil­lion yuan ($82 mil­lion) have been re­cov­ered, the Min­istry of Public Se­cu­rity said on Wed­nes­day.

The ar­ti­facts are thought to be those ex­ca­vated il­le­gally from Ni­uhe­liang, a Ne­olithic ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site in Chaoyang, a city in the north­east­ern prov­ince of Liaon­ing.

Among the relics re­cov­ered was a coiled jade dragon, one of the ear­li­est-known de­pic­tions of the mytho­log­i­cal crea­ture, au­thor­i­ties said.

“Many of the ar­ti­facts re­cov­ered were seen le­git­i­mately for the first time,” Zhang Guil­ian, se­nior of­fi­cial at the cul­tural her­itage author­ity in Liaon­ing, said in an in­ter­view with Bei­jing Times. “If it hadn’t been for the ar­rests, th­ese priceless relics would have been sold to pri­vate col­lec­tors and prob­a­bly ended up over­seas.”

Po­lice started an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in June last year, when holes dug at ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites were dis­cov­ered. More than 1,000 po­lice from six prov­inces and re­gions, in­clud­ing He­bei prov­ince and the In­ner Mon­go­lia au­ton­o­mous re­gion, took part.

The min­istry said the sus­pects came from the six ar­eas and were split into 10 gangs that al­legedly han­dled ev­ery­thing from site ex­ca­va­tion to sales.

Metal de­tec­tors and ex­ca­va­tion equip­ment were used to un­earth the relics. Au­thor­i­ties said the sus­pects also used knowl­edge of feng shui to lo­cate buried ob­jects, as most an­cient tombs were built in ac­cor­dance with the prin­ci­ples of feng shui.

The min­istry said tomb raiders had be­come pro­fes­sional and joined or­ga­nized crime, mak­ing it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to crack down on the il­le­gal trade in relics.

The loot­ing also raised ques­tions about se­cu­rity at Liaon­ing’s his­tor­i­cal sites. Four of the sus­pects are staff mem­bers at of­fi­cial ar­chae­o­log­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Bei­jing Times.

A sus­pect sur­named Deng used to be a tech­ni­cian at an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal re­search cen­ter in Liaon­ing. Deng is sus­pected of steal­ing a jade dragon while work­ing on an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ex­ca­va­tion and sell­ing it with an­other sus­pect, an ex­pert at a lo­cal mu­seum, for 3.2 mil­lion yuan.

“In the 1980s and ear­lier, peo­ple could dig freely at his­tor­i­cal sites,” said Hu Jian­min, a 60- year- old res­i­dent of Beip­iao, a neigh­bor­ing city of Chaoyang.

He said there were so many fos­sils and relics that peo­ple used them to build pig sties. Later, when they found they could make money from such ob­jects, dig­ging up tombs be­came a busi­ness.

“Peo­ple are still dig­ging, but they do it se­cretly,” he said. “Loot­ers usu­ally work in a group at night. Some dig, some drive and some keep watch. They fill the holes af­ter they are done to avoid de­tec­tion. Relics deal­ers then come to the vil­lages to buy.” Con­tact the writ­ers at li­uce@chi­nadaily.com.cn and pengyin­ing@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

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