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he western world, grave robbers have disappeared, putting their profession into a historical archive. In China however grave robbers are still very much so present and always on the hunt for treasure. Grave robbing is also known in some parts of the world as “body snatching” and it was an actual profession. Most grave robbers were hired to steal the bodies of certain dead people whilst others had the job of stealing valuables that have been buried with the dead.

A 1300-year-old crime

Recently archeologists have found an ancient tomb located in West China in the Ningxia region. A tunnel was dug into the tomb by grave robbers which is something usual, but what was unusual is the remains of a body that does not seem to have been neatly placed in his resting ground, but rather thrown in after receiving a death blow to the head.

The skeleton was found inside a tomb (Source: Qian Wang)

At first, archeologists thought that this was the remains of a grave robber, but it turns out that this was actually the victim who may have discovered the grave robbers in the act and they ended up attacking this witness and hiding him in the tomb. A team of scientists from Texas A&M University has taken a look at the remains that have been discovered and concluded that the body was not part of the tomb as it is only 1300 years old.

The tomb located in the Shiyanzi cemetery where the body was found could be as old as 2000 years. There are other similar tombs in the cemetery that have been discovered in 2002 and some of them date back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC — 220 AD), so there is a possibility of being that old.

This specific tomb is believed to house some of the Han family members. The size of it alone indicates this as the tomb is made out of wood with a surface area of 194 square meters. The burial room is found through a passage and within the room, it is believed to be a valuable treasure.

Grave Robbers left in a Rush

Dr. Qian Wang of the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University has played the detective in this ancient crime. Besides the remains of the body, they also found 57 Wu Zhu coins and a couple of artifacts made from bronze indicating that the grave robbers left in a rush after killing the victim as what they left behind is quite valuable. Something that ensured the victim was attacked violently is the 13 sharp force marks present on the skeleton and the worst present on the skull.

The grave robbers have dug a 6-meter tunnel to reach the tomb, but this tunnel had collapsed in time. The body of the victim had been uncovered 2 meters within this tunnel with a gesture showing that he was protecting his face most probably from the dirt that he was buried with. Here is a digital representation that shows the tunnel to the tomb from Wang Qian.

A digital representation that shows the tunnel to the tomb (Source: Qian Wang)

Radiocarbon analysis of a bone piece from the skeleton believed to be the victim shows that the skeleton is from the Tang Dynasty (618–907), meaning that it has the potential of being 1300 years old. This is truly an amazing discovery as for years it has been thought that the skeleton found within the tunnel was just another grave robber but now the pathological analysis shows that this was just a young healthy man that was probably in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The study paper written by Qian Wang and others that have taken part has concluded:

“After the assault, the victim was dumped in this shaft to be purposely kept from sight. This case indicates that the strategy of hiding victims’ bodies in existing tombs or graveyards as a means of disposal, akin to ‘hiding a leaf in the forest,’ has been practiced since antiquity.”

Qian Wang

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