The construction of a section of the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway has been halted and its contractor is facing a fine of up to 500,000 yuan ($73,000) for causing "severe damage" to an archeological site in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province, a senior official with the city's cultural heritage bureau said Monday.
Yang Qinghua, vice-director of the bureau, said the 23,000 sq m site in the Yuhuatai district of the city is home to countless relics dating back to the Shang (16th century-11th century BC) and Zhou (11th century-256 BC) dynasties.
"The site contains eight levels of cultural relics dating back through Chinese history," he said.
The construction firm, part of the Beijing-Shanghai Express Railway Headquarters, caused great damage to the site while working there last week.
After receiving reports of the damage, the municipal government ordered construction to be halted, Yang said.
"But almost 2,000 sq m of the site has already been severely damaged," he said.
Under national law, construction work cannot be carried out on such a site without permission from the local heritage bureau, he said.
As a result, the contractor will be fined between 50,000 and 500,000 yuan for the damage caused, he said.
The heritage site was identified last October, following the discovery of pieces of pottery and bones during a ground survey for the railway, Yang said.
Experts determined the relics dated back to the Shang Dynasty and estimated that it would take one year to excavate the whole site, he said.
Initially, the cultural heritage bureau asked the railway company to redirect the line to bypass the site, but it refused, saying that the project was of national importance, Yang said.
So in May, the bureau issued a report saying the construction firm would therefore have to pay 5 million yuan to have all the relics excavated before proceeding with the build, but it never replied, he said.
Under the Law on Protection of Cultural Relics, the cost of any archaeological investigation, prospecting or excavation - which has to be carried out because of a construction project - must be included in the overall budget, he said.
"These precious cultural relics absolutely must be excavated before construction continues," Yang said.
"You can't just ignore them."
A press officer with the Ministry of Railways who declined to give his name told China Daily Monday that he was unaware of the case, but that such an accident "should not have occurred".