Police have stepped up patrols to combat ruin raiders in the underground ancient relics of Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, after authorities caught two local farmers stealing tile-ends.
Local police arrested the farmers on Monday.
Authorities received reports that some farmers living among the ruins were looking for relics from the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC - AD 24), buried in the Chang'an City ruins.
On Sunday, the last day of the seven-day Spring Festival holiday, Xi'an Administration of Culture Heritage was tipped off about the alleged illegal digging, according to Huang Wei, director of the administration's relics protection department.
"We found more than 100 holes which were made in the ruins by local farmers for the ancient tile-ends," Huang said.
"We used bulldozers to cover all the holes and went to the nearby villages with local police to investigate the illegal excavations."
The site contains the ruins of Jianzhang Palace, which was built in 104 BC, the largest at that time.
Under the ruins, there are large numbers of relics such as the tile-ends, which are rare with State-level protection.
According to a local farmer who did not give his name, a piece of tile-end made in the Western Han Dynasty can be sold for up to 500 yuan ($62), a average month's wage for many local workers.
Heritage protection officials have warned farmers the relics belong to the State and that private excavations were illegal.
"At present, our cultural relics protection department, co-operating with other departments concerned, will further strengthen protection measures, such as 24-hour patrolling around the ruins, increase farmers' awareness of heritage conservation and intensify the crackdown on the illegal excavation in the ruins, to better protect the relics," Huang said.
Tang Long, the director of Xi'an Protection Office for the Ruins of Chang'an of the Western Han Dynasty, admitted it was difficult to protect the ruins in Xi'an and other places of historical value.
"It is a tough issue in the county because the ancient sites are open and the land with underground relics is now farmland owned by local farmers, which could not be completely controlled," Tang said.
Source: China Daily