Jin Jiying, deputy director of the Changzhou Municipal Bureau of Public Security, said that the construction work started in March 2020 in Tianning District.
Police received a tip-off in May 2020 that the workers had discovered the tombs before the construction started.
The police investigation at the construction site led to the seizure of more than 30 cultural relics and found clues that two suspects with professional tools excavated the tombs.
Jin said police had caught 24 suspects, including nine people involved in the construction project. They were members of a criminal gang that stole and dealt in cultural relics.
He said most of the 3,519 recovered cultural relics were robbed from the tombs at the construction site, and the rest were held by the gang, which cannot be traced back to original sources.
The relics range from agate cups, Hotan jade plates, gold and silver ornaments, bronze mirrors and ancient coins.
According to an appraisal by the local cultural relics department, the ancient tombs mainly date back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279).
Some of the tombs were damaged by the robbers. So far, 13 of the 24 suspects have been transferred for prosecution, and two of the main suspects have been sentenced to more than 10 years in prison.
The municipal authorities had also imposed administrative penalties on the construction units and ordered an overhaul.
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