Beijing: Chinese police apprehended 175 tomb raiders in the "biggest operation" and recovered 1,168 cultural relics worth USD 80 million, officials said today.
Described as the biggest swoop of its kind since the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, the Ministry of Public Security valued the looted artifacts at more than 500 million yuan (USD 80 million).
The tomb raiders are suspected of illegal excavations in Niuheliang, a Neolithic site in northeastern Liaoning Province.
Their activities have seriously damaged the site, said the ministry.
The recovered artifacts include a coiled jade dragon, one of the earliest known representations of the Chinese totem, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Police said the tomb raiders, who belong to ten gangs, had a clear division of labour covering the whole process from excavation to sales.
More than 1,000 police officers participated in the operation.