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19 June 2005
Chinese tomb raiders leave little for archaeologists

Chinese archaeologists have said a cluster of elaborate tombs unearthed in China's northwest Shaanxi Province may be the most significant historical find in many years.  Unfortunately, the archaeologists were not the first to find the tombs - grave robbers have left very little for historians to work with.
     The 22 ancient tombs are all linked by tunnels or they have their own funeral pit.  Chinese archaeologists said the tunnels in the tombs suggested the cemetery was reserved for high-ranking officials from the Western Zhou Dynasty (1100 BCE to 770 BCE).  The Western Zhou Dynasty had a series of more than 10 kings, but their tombs have so far, never been found. And historical records and documents offer very limited information on the history of the Western Zhou Dynasty, which lasted some 300 years.
     To protect the site, local authorities have banned any construction for 10 square kilometres around. Wang Zhankui, Head of Archaeological Excavation Team and Deputy Director of Shaanxi Provincial Archaeology Research Institute, said:  "Such big tombs with four linking tunnels probably means it is a tomb of a king. Or maybe it could be someone of a slightly lower rank than the king, such as 'Zhou Gong' (the Premier). This is a significant discovery because we have never found a four-tunnel tomb of the Western Zhou Dynasty."
     Unfortunately, archaeologists cannot be certain who occupied the tombs in this cemetery because they have all been looted. Wang added: "This is definitely a very sad situation, but there is nothing we can do, we are helpless. We can only work with what is left. The damage done over the years has been very severe." Over the past five years, it is believed that more than 100,000 ancient burial grounds in China have been looted by tomb raiders.

Source: Channel News Asia (15 June 2005)

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