Grave robbery

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Under grave robbing the looting is generally graves and sampling of grave goods understood. It is an ancient phenomenon that, like robbery excavations in other archaeological sites , is now generally a criminal offense .

Grave robbery in ancient Egypt

In cultures like ancient Egypt , where the dead were buried with abundant offerings, grave robbery was a lucrative business that whole families lived on. Most Egyptian tombs were looted by tomb robbers long before they were discovered by archaeologists . Many art and cultural treasures were irretrievably lost in this way, as the artifacts were often melted down in order to preserve the valuable metal and to be able to sell it on. In the more favorable case, the grave goods reappeared in markets or bazaars.

Especially in the Ramesside period, the trade in objects that came from graves in the Valley of the Kings or the Valley of the Queens flourished . Even the Theban priests are said to have been involved in these machinations through corruption. So is from the 16th year of rule Ramses IX. evidence of a trial against grave robbers. Here it is also clear that most of the grave robbers of this epoch came from the immediate environment of the bricklayers, stonemasons, artisans, outline painters and painters who built the graves, since only they knew the structure of a grave after it was closed and where the actual grave chamber was lay.

Probably the best-known family of grave robbers in Egypt was the Qurna- based clan of Abd el-Rassul, whose brothers Achmed and Muhammad accidentally found the famous royal cachette of Deir el-Bahari (TT 320) and led officials from the Egyptian antiquity administration there on July 5, 1881 . Several mummies of the most famous pharaohs of Egyptian antiquity from the 18th to 20th dynasties were found there.

Grave robbery in other cultures

Grave robbery was also known in the Chinese Empire . In order to protect the famous tomb of Qin Shihuangdi from looting, hidden loopholes from which arrows were pointed at the tomb robbers were created, which were automatically shot when entering the complex.

In the 18th century, grave robbers stole the heart of Louis XIV and it came into the possession of the English Lord Harcourt, who sold it to the Dean of Westminster , William Buckland.

The Magdalenenberg near Villingen-Schwenningen was probably plundered in antiquity .

Grave robbery in this day and age

Looting of archaeological sites very often starts at graves, as the robbers hope to find rich treasures there in the form of gifts. Unlike settlement finds, which are mostly broken, there is hope for complete objects in graves. In the background there is a growing - illegal - market with antiques .

Some examples:

In the Sicilian Morgantina is one of the most important archaeological sites of the Hellenistic culture. Because of the robbery of important works of art from Morgantina, such as that of a statue of Aphrodite, which was stolen immediately after the excavation in 1986, a trial against Marion True , long-time curator of the Getty Museum , and the art dealer Robert E. Hecht opened on charges of stolen goods and art smuggling.

In order to obtain the return of stolen works of art from Italy, the Italian Ministry of Culture ( Ministero dei Beni Culturali ) negotiated with several museums, including the Getty Center for the return of the so-called Getty Bronze and the aforementioned statue of Aphrodites and the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened and partially successfully completed.

In Rome , specialists continuously monitor the international art market in order to be able to immediately identify grave objects that are newly offered on the market.

In 1975 Ciudad Perdida ( Spanish for "lost city") was rediscovered and plundered by grave robbers.

Four Mongolian shepherds wanted to break into a historic burial site from the Liao Dynasty in the People's Republic of China in 2004 . But when the tomb suddenly collapsed, the four grave robbers were buried. Only one of the men could escape.

In Peru at Easter 2004, an almost 1,000 year old, valuable mural of the Lambayeque culture in Huaca Bandera was destroyed in a grave robbery . Since there were no valuable pieces of jewelry, ceramics or textiles in the tomb, the robbers vandalized a dragon relief painting.

Since around 1990, medals , dog tags and items of equipment from the Second World War that had previously been stolen from soldiers' graves have been offered at trade fairs and on the Internet .

In numerous adventure films ( Indiana Jones ) and computer games ( Lara Croft from Tomb Raider ), the grave robbery is thematized as a setting and is mostly uncritically incorporated as a " petty offense ". In the real world of today's tourists, on the other hand, there are increasingly draconian fines or imprisonment for unsuspecting buyers of archaeological finds, such as those found for example. B. occur again and again in smaller grave robberies in the Mediterranean area.

Grave robbery vs. archeology

The first archaeologists were often accused of robbing graves because they brought many grave objects out of the country. Even today, scientific excavations are sometimes viewed as grave robberies by the descendants of the cultures to be explored. One example of this is the dispute that has been going on between North American Indians and the researchers of the so-called Kennewick man since the mid-1990s .

See also


  1., November 16, 2005
  2. ^ FAZ, September 29, 2005, No. 227 / page 42
  3. Victorious Youth ( ( Memento of the original from December 3, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. .  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  4. Goddess, Probably Aphrodite ( ( Memento from July 20, 2010 in the Internet Archive )


  • Herbert Jankuhn (ed.): On the grave crime in prehistoric and early historical times. Investigations into grave robbery and "haugbrot" in Central and Northern Europe. Report on a colloquium of the commission for the ancient studies of Central and Northern Europe from February 14th to 16th, 1977 (= treatises of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, Philological-Historical Class. Volume 3, 113). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1978, ISBN 3-525-82393-2 .
  • Karl Heinrich Krüger: Grave robbery in narrative sources of the early Middle Ages. In: Treatises of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, Philological-Historical Class. Episode 3, 115, 1978, ISSN  0930-4304 , pp. 169-187, (also special print: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1978).
  • Johannes-Wolfgang Neugebauer : The necropolis F von Gemeinlebarn, Lower Austria. Investigations into burial customs and grave robbery in the late Early Bronze Age in Lower Austria south of the Danube between Enns and Wienerwald (= Roman-Germanic research. 49). von Zabern, Mainz 1991, ISBN 3-8053-1191-5 (also: Vienna University, habilitation paper 1988).
  • Peter Watson & Cecilia Todeschini: The Medici Conspiracy. The trade in art treasures from the looting of Italian graves and museums. From the American by Ulrike Seith and Jana Plewa. Parthas Verlag, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-86601-905-X , (Original edition: The Medici conspiracy. The illicit journey of looted antiquities, from Italy's tomb raiders to the world's greatest museums. PublicAffairs, New York NY et al. 2006, ISBN 978- 1-58648-402-6 ).
  • Robbery grave robbers. Accompanying publication to the special exhibition of the State Museum of Nature and People Oldenburg from May 11th to September 8th, 2013. Oldenburg 2013, ISBN 978-3-943904-19-2

Web links

Wiktionary: grave robbers  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations