For China’s tomb robbers, an ancient business is still booming
In 2003, farmers ploughing in Qishan county, Shaanxi province, unearthed a pit deep and unusual enough to have them send for a team of local archeologists. The experts were soon excited to find what seemed to be traces of a grand group of tombs from the Western Zhou dynasty (1046 – 771 BCE).
Ancient bronze ware, pieces of tortoiseshell, and over 700 scraps of oracle bones, inscribed with an array of terms like “sacrifice,” “war” and “Duke of Zhou,” suggested that the farmers had stumbled across a rare aristocratic find; Zhou oracle bones had only been found before in eight sites, and the range of characters suggested this was likely to be another landmark discovery.
By October 2004, the archeologists had acquired the approval of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage to gather in Qishan and begin an official excavation of this Zhou mausoleum. Among all the graves, experts held the highest hope for Tomb No. 32. By the time they’d cleared the earth in January the following year, though, the team was in shock. All that were left inside were a few scattered water bottles, intercoms, and flashlights; this ancient treasure trove had been ransacked before the archeologists even arrived.
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Raiders of the Lost Art is a story from our issue, “Home Bound.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.