Chinese archaeologists said a 2,100-year-old tomb famous as the final resting place of a perfectly preserved female corpse is being threatened by residents' rampant soil looting as local residents believed that good "feng shui" there produced "holy soil".
Mawangdui, a small hill in the eastern suburbs of Changsha, capital of central Hunan Province, is home to the grand tombs of the Marquis of Dai during the Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD), as well as his wife and son.
In recent years, local residents have taken soil from the site to use for planting flowers or making marinated eggs, as they believe the site's good "feng shui" has produced a superior soil, said Li Jianming, curator of the Hunan Provincial Museum.
"Some citizens say the tomb's good feng shui creates better soil," Li said.
Most artifacts unearthed from the tombs are currently exhibited in the museum, but Li said the many holes left by those taking away soil have posed a threat to the tomb's external structures.
The Mawangdui site grabbed international attention when researchers found a female corpse that showed no signs of decay when her coffin was opened in the 1970s. An autopsy determined that the woman, identified as Lady Dai, died of a heart attack in her 50s.
Thousands of well-preserved artifacts uncovered from the tombs, including a very thin T-shaped silk painting, have also contributed to the fame of the site.
Hunan's archaeological authorities said Mawangdui is co-managed by the provincial museum and a nursing home, but it has no security guards, except two elderly ticket sellers and some volunteers sent by the hospital.
"We receive no funding or government subsidies, and our efforts can not stop the diggers' constant visits," said a hospital employee.
The security situation at Mawangdui is fairly common among ancient ruins in China's countryside, as experts said many such sites are hardly protected, making them easy targets for theft and damage.
Last year, part of the country's oldest fortification was destroyed by workers involved in a power plant project in a mountainous region of Henan Province. Local authorities said they lacked security personnel and did not learn about the damage until several months later, after construction work had progressed.