'Tomb raiders' a very real threat to China's archaeological treasures

'Tomb raiders' a very real threat to China's archaeological treasures

BEIJING - For Qu Linxia, an archaeologist who specializes in the excavation of ancient tombs, the time between the discovery of a centuries-old burial site and completion of its excavation is an emotional roller coaster.

"Sometimes my heart begins to sink even before we start digging," she said, referring to the sight of disturbed earth and discarded cigarette butts that almost unquestionably point to visits by tomb raiders.

But what Qu described as her "almost foolish optimism" keeps her hopes alive as she and her colleagues at the Shaanxi Provincial Archaeological Institute carefully approach the core of each tomb.

"Usually, what we discovered was what we most feared: the lid of the coffin would be pushed aside, shards of pottery were scattered all around, embossed bricks that had prevented seepage for eons were broken or missing," said the 53-year-old, who as a youngster often accompanied her archaeologist father to tomb sites, before taking on his mantle at the age of 16.

"On one occasion, we were greeted by nothing but a half-drunk bottle of mineral water."

The sight of the bottle, left behind as the raiders beat a hasty retreat, effectively ended a physically and mentally consuming process for Qu by extinguishing the faint glimmer of hope she had kept alive until then.

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