05/30/2015, 00.00
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China, maxi arrest in theft of archaeological artefacts dating back to 3,000 BC

Police in the province of Liaoning have recovered 1,168 artifacts, including a priceless jade dragon. Those arrested are accused of theft and illegal sale of antiquities. Four archaeologists and many business people involved. A thousand police agents involved in seizure.

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Chinese authorities have arrested 175 people in the Chinese province of Liaoning, accused of having stolen archaeological artefacts worth over 80 million dollars (500 million yuan).

The Ministry of Public Security said it had recovered a "treasure trove" of 1,168 ancient artifacts, stolen illegally from the archaeological site of Niuheliang. The excavation dates back to the Neolithic period, about 5 thousand years ago, and according to UNESCO was a site for burial and sacrifices. According to authorities, it is the "largest recovery operation of stolen antiquities ever made."

The police did not provide information about the date of the seizure , but said it involved about a thousand agents and stressed that the activities of traffickers "seriously damaged the archaeological site." Items recovered include a jade dragon with spiral tail, one of the first known examples of ancient Chinese totem (formed by the head of a bear and the body of a snake, which indicates the process of integration of the various ethnic groups in China ed).

According to investigators the 175 arrested were divided into ten groups, each of which dealt with a particular point in the smuggling, from excavation from the site in Niuheliang to the illegal sale to wealthy buyers. Cai Binghui, police officer interviewed by China Daily, reported that the sale took place very quickly: "The artifacts were sold and traded quickly".

Traffickers could count on the complicity of several mediators, who helped to collect valuables and even four archaeologists.

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