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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author Sun Jiahui (孙佳慧)

Sun Jiahui is a freelance writer and former editor at The World of Chinese. She writes about Chinese language, society and culture, and is especially passionate about sharing stories of China's ancient past with a wider audience. She has been writing for TWOC for over six years, and pens the Choice Chengyu column.

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