Worth More Dead Than Alive

By Gabrielle Frulla

            Most people walk through a graveyard, crowded by crooked and crumbling headstones, and only view it as the final resting place for the deceased. But some people look for what lies below those headstones, nostalgic and glistening, and see the answers to their financial troubles—Grave robbers prey upon the valuable items left inside the caskets of the departed.

            Grave robbing has been around just as long as the God’s and Goddesses of death. Its effects can be seen in China, Europe, North America, and Central America. However, the history of Ancient Egypt during the Early Dynastic Period was affected the most. These tomb raiders chipped away at the ancient limestone, disregarded the curses placed upon the doors of the tombs, and stole what was not theirs. The tombs in the Valley of the Kings have been violently robbed in all senses of the word. Not only did Egyptian grave robbers steal the jewels, organs, and other belongings from the ancient Pharaohs, they also robbed the world of valuable historical artifacts and information.

            For instance, the tomb of King Tutankhamen was raided at least twice before anyone was given the chance to examine it in a respectful manner. The only reason it had remained partially intact was because of the fact that Ramesses VI’s tomb was accidentally built on top of it. There King Tut’s tomb remained partially untouched until Howard Carter re-discovered it in 1922.

What’s interesting about the graver robberies of Egypt is the fact that Egypt had been a cashless society until 525 BCE. Those who even tried to exchange the stolen property of the Pharaohs would be immediately turned into authorities. It was said that there were, however, corrupt officials that did accept the stolen goods and melted down the gold for trading. The disrespect aimed towards the belongings of the deceased orbited around money, and that gravitational pull was quite strong. It’s alarming to see that money, even in its rawest and infantile form, ruled the world thousands of years ago, and its power continues to reign supreme.

            Sadly, grave robbing is still a relevant hobby as seen in China. With the development of new technology such as night vision goggles and metal detectors, grave robbers have an even bigger advantage. There has been an increase in the demand for Chinese antiquities, and people know exactly where to find them—tombs. The disregard for ancient history, and the desperation for money, has resulted in the destruction of various Chinese cultural heritage sites. A reported 103 tombs have been raided and stolen from in 2016 alone, not to mention the countless other robberies that have happened under the radar. It is said that an estimated eight out of every ten Chinese tombs have either been destroyed, disrupted, or robbed, proving the problem of tomb raiding in China to be uncontrollable.

            Robbing graves has become an art of its own. You have to be skilled enough to get in and out of a tomb unseen and unharmed. You, also, have to have a keen sense of what is valuable and what is useless in the eyes of a collector. Whether it was in Ancient Egypt, or on the countryside of China, death comes at a price. Ancient rulers were buried with the hope that their bodies would forever rest peacefully inside of their tombs, but money seems to have completely destroyed that notion. Whether it be a remarkably preserved tongue, a golden scepter, or jade, a grave robber sees only the value of the item, not the item itself. The dead bodies themselves have become victims of robbers during a period when examining and dissecting cadavers was at an all-time high. It is safe to say that little remains untouched and sacred on this small sphere we call Planet Earth.


Mark, Joshua J. “Tomb Robbing in Ancient Egypt.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 22 Dec. 2018, www.ancient.eu/article/1095/tomb-robbing-in-ancient-egypt/.

Qin, Amy. “Tomb Robbing, Perilous but Alluring, Makes Comeback in China.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 15 July 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/07/15/world/asia/china-tomb-robbing-qin-dynasty.html.