Police arrest suspected member of gang which raided ancient and mysterious Chinese tomb

Tuyuhun Kingdom was established by nomadic people during the early Tang dynasty and is best known for extensive military expeditions

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 June, 2018, 3:11pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 June, 2018, 3:11pm

Police in eastern China’s Zhejiang province said that they have apprehended a man they suspect of being involved in robbing a 1,500-year-old tomb.

Wang Jiangtao was arrested in Tiantai county in Zhejiang province on Saturday, but his detention was only announced by local police on Thursday afternoon, news portal Chinanews.com reported.

He was accused of taking part in a raid of one of the most mysterious tombs in Qinghai province in November last year.

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Wang, who confessed, told police he tried to buy a motorbike in Tiantai to escape back to his home in central China’s Henan province before being arrested.

Wang was already known to police and given the nickname of the “Gold-Touching Lieutenant”. He slipped into Zhejiang in March and sought to evade capture by working in a forest as lumberjack. He would stay hidden in the woods for long periods.

First discovered in the 1980s, Tomb Xuewei Number One is considered to be one of the most magnificent and complex ancient tombs found and excavated so far in Dulan county in the Tibetan-Qinghai plateau.

Archaeologists believe this is a royal tomb from the mysterious Tuyuhun Kingdom during the early Tang dynasty (618-907).

The kingdom was established by nomadic peoples in the Qilian Mountains and upper Yellow River valley in northwestern China. It was best known for its extensive military expeditions that reached as far as Hotan in Xinjiang and the borders of Kashmir and Afghanistan before unifying parts of Inner Asia for the first time in history.

It was conquered by the Tibetan Empire in 663AD and disintegrated around 900AD, and not much remains of the once powerful kingdom. The tomb, 33 metres high and 55 metres wide, is known as the Oriental Pyramid.

Archaeologists are most interested in its unusual nine-level wooden and stone structure – each level was constructed with thick cypress trunks and multiple half-metre-tall stones. They estimate that it took at least 10,000 workers more than a year to finish building it.

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The tomb is so mysterious that it has been featured in several popular novels and movies, including the 2015 film, Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe, an adventure and action movie directed by Lu Chuan.

So far, archaeologists have excavated the first two floors, finding burial artefacts such as horse bones, ancient leather, wooden chips, golden ornaments and multiple silk products, which offer a rare glimpse into the lives of the Tuyuhun Kingdom people.

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Mainland media has reported that because of inadequate security and a lack of financial support, tomb raiding is common in the region, despite crackdowns.

Police did not give more details of Wang’s role in the raid, but according to an earlier police announcement in April, the team of robbers dug a 10-metre tunnel at the eastern end of the tomb and stole 400 antiques. All the artefacts were later recovered by police.

One suspect was detained in April and police are hunting the three that remain at large.