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Grave robbers, origins and techniques of grave predators

Why were the Grave Robbers defined as such? And above all, what is the purpose for which they excavated ancient tombs without permission? These and many others are the questions we will try to answer, clarifying first of all the meaning.

This name was given to those who used to steal from secular tombs and archaeological areas, in order to find objects and furnishings to be sold or, in even more remote times, to furnish their homes.

This is a phenomenon which has affected our territory sparing no region. From North to South, individuals or organised groups have stolen numerous historical treasures. 

Archeologia, a Taranto 13 indagati per traffico internazionale di reperti -  la Repubblica
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THE ORIGIN OF THE GRAVE ROBBERS 

The Italian term of “Tombarolo” (grave robber) was born when unauthorized excavations of the Etruscan tombs began to take place in Lazio and Tuscany. After, the name was given to those who used to go and steal relics of historical interest.

At that time, however, this practice was more sporadic and considered primarily a sacrilege by those who dug the tombs to steal any type of object that was buried together with the body.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, it changed changed becoming almost a habit, for aristocrats and large landowners, to go in search of finds. They were, in fact, the only ones who could afford such an activity because on their properties the necropolis began to emerge.

For almost a century, therefore, these lords were the only ones to have the exclusive of the so-called “illegal excavations”, leaving out the rest of the people. Among the most famous grave robbers stands the name of Luciano Bonaparte, the brother of the emperor, also called the “Tombarolo Prince”.

Quei predoni dell'archeologia che saccheggiano la Tuscia per le mafie
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GRAVE ROBBERS AND THE PHARAOHS 

Egypt is the place where grave robbers used to raid every precious object that was kept inside the tombs of the Pharaohs. They were ready to defy all kinds of pitfalls and traps that the architects planned in order to take possession of the treasures of these rich departed.

Stealing from Pharaohs sepulchres was punished with death, but despite this, the phenomenon of grave robbers was spread all over the land of the Nile and many did not believe in the divine punishment as much as in the human one. 

The ancient grave robbers were ready to use the mummies of children as real human torches to obtain the light necessary to find gold and other precious objects.

Such harassment went on for years, so much so that the numerous archaeologists who went there to study these monuments of great historical importance, hardly managed to find an intact tomb.

20 sarcofaghi egizi in condizioni eccezionali scoperti a el-Assasif: mai  aperti, sono ancora pieni
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GRAVE ROBBERS AND THE MODERN TECHNIQUES 

According to an anonymous interview from a few years ago with a clandestine excavator reported by The Journal of Cultural Heritage Crime, the first thing that most modern grave robbers used to do was to probe the land, especially those plowed recently, to verify if there were hidden necropolis.

Their interest was mainly aimed at discovering possible Greek burials that would give birth to furnishings to sell more easily. For this purpose, these individuals paid much attention to funeral implants and what came out of them.

The Tombaroli would come into action when it was dark, with picks, flashlights, shovels and hammers for carpenters, as well as water tanks and probes to be able to dig and intercept funeral plant, with a good margin of safety.

For a long time, the immense artistic, historical and cultural heritage of our country has been put in serious danger because of this phenomenon, but a lot has been done to stop it and preserve the most important way that our territory has to tell us about the past.

scavi clandestini | archeologiavocidalpassato
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