2,000-year-old tombs destroyed by bulldozers
A hundred Chinese tombs more than 2,000 years old have been crushed or buried to make way for a housing project in Inner Mongolia province, the Beijing Youth Daily reported.
The destruction, backed by the local government, continued even though the Helinge'er county site was one of the largest and best-preserved cultural heritage sites in China, the newspaper said.
Nearly 50 of the tombs were razed and more than 50 others were covered over by earth when construction equipment flattened the ground.
"Here we don't know how many cultural relics have been broken to pieces," said Chen Yongzhi, deputy director of the Inner Mongolia Cultural Relics Archeological Research Institute.
"We don't know how many historical mysteries that could've been solved will remain mysteries forever."
The site in the north of China was once the cemetery of the former city of Tuchengzi and has a history dating back to the Warring States period in the latter part of the Eastern Zhou dynasty (770-221 BC).
In 2001, the Chinese government placed it on the list of important national sites to be preserved.
County authorities, however, were eager to turn the 300,000 square metre (3.2 million square feet) plot of land over to the Xiangyu Real Estate Development Company to cash in on the local housing boom.
They failed to conduct a required cultural heritage assessment, said the report, citing heritage experts and local government officials.
Their actions amounted to a violation of China's cultural relics protection law, but so far no one had been arrested.
Inner Mongolia cultural relics protection officials ordered a work stoppage on May 10, but construction crews had continued to destroy the tombs as the county government and police refused to stop the workers.
Officials from China's Cultural Relics Bureau rushed experts to the site in April after learning about the destruction and were trying to salvage as many of the tombs and their relics as possible, the report said.
The developer and its workers have reportedly been putting up resistance, warning the preservationists that they need to finish up their work fast or risk being run over by bulldozers.
It is estimated that the site had at least several thousand tombs, all in good condition, until the developer began tearing them up. Many relics as well as skeletons have been shattered to pieces.
Much of China's cultural heritage has disappeared, with many relics smuggled overseas. Illegal excavations are rampant, while the drive for profit has seen countless ancient sites damaged or destroyed.