Finding Opportunity through Grave Robbing

by M-Gillies

Today, grave robbers are stealing from the dead using technology instead of a shovel. Identity theft of the dead is on the rise. In the U.S. alone 400,000 checking accounts were opened in the names of deceased people in 2004.

Is it exploitation or just opportunism for a grave robber to steal from burial sites?

Considering that graves are underdeveloped resources, often garnished with an array of untouched and undisturbed wealth, it seems, most people have a moral prejudice against capitalizing on the riches the deceased take with them. Well, when we think of most people, those with an immunity of disgust and immorality toward the deceased don’t always cross our minds.

During pre-industrial times, a new fear was slowly reaching the citizens of late 18th century England, which was the sacrilegious notion that their graves would become the financial gains of thieves, or grave robbers. While it was during this time that the resurrectionists or body snatchers, a group of independent entrepreneurs who exhumed corpses to sell to universities for anatomical studies were the root of the hysteria, grave robbers were a different class of thieves.

Unlike their counterparts, grave robbers, or tomb raiders were people who engaged in disinterring a grave for the purpose of stealing and looting valuable, and often rare artifacts. Through this act, the study of archaeology, art history and history have suffered great difficulty as modern grave robbers sell their finds on the black market, where more often than not, these artifacts end up in private collections rather than museums or with scholars.

Throughout the world, grave robbing has afflicted various burial sites, from the Chinese jade burial suits, which were believed to be of myths for many years until two were discovered in 1968, to Ancient Egyptian tombs, which, within one hundred years of their sealing, were robbed, because Egyptian pharaohs kept records of the precious items in their tombs, archaeologists have been able to discern which items have been stolen based on this inventory checklist.

However, it isn’t just the Eastern countries that have experienced extensive grave robbing. In North America, it was a common act to rob Native American burial grounds as well as Antebellum Period and pre-Great Depression era grave sites.

Often with these sites, grave robbers search for old and valuable jewellery, and because they are often located in rural or forested areas, which were once prominent locals of wealthy landowners, the practice may be encouraged by default upon the discovery of a previously unknown family cemetery.

Read more:

Ancient Costa Rica Part I: Lost History In The Land Of Crossroads | Boing Boing

Fascinating History: 18th Century Grave Robbers | Fascinating History

Video Links:

Solving History with Olly Steeds: Grave Robbers | HowStuffWorks Videos

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