grave robber

Grave robbing

Grave robbing, grave robbery or tomb raiding is the act of uncovering a tomb or crypt to steal the artifacts (as illicit antiquities) inside or disinterring a corpse to steal the body itself or its personal effects. Someone who engages in this act is a grave robber or tomb raider.

Grave robbing is the bane of art historians and archaeologists; countless precious grave sites and tombs have been robbed before scholars were able to examine them, resulting in the loss of historical finds. Similarly, Chinese jade burial suits were believed to be myths for many years until two were discovered in 1968; it is now believed that most jade burial suits were long ago removed by grave robbers.

In medieval and renaissance Europe, students of medicine and of art were reported to have stolen corpses from morgues, private houses, and cemeteries to assist in their study of anatomy. Michelangelo, the Renaissance painter and sculptor, was known for stealing bodies from morgues in order to study human anatomy to perfect his artwork; however, this would more likely be considered a case of body snatching than grave robbery. His rival Leonardo da Vinci was also known for this same practice.

The heroine of the video game series "Tomb Raider (series)," Lara Croft, robs graves.

In recent years, large scale looting of corpses of killed German soldiers from WW2 has occurred on the former eastern front. The primary goal is to discover military equipments, that are then sold locally or internationally. One helmet or badge can be sold for the equivalent of several months salary, which makes grave robbing worth the effort for many of the locals.

Motives for grave robbery

  • to obtain valuables such as jewellery, gold teeth, rings and watches to either keep, or sell for profit.
  • to supply the black market in body parts.
  • to obtain items such as skulls and body fat for occult purposes.
  • to engage in sexual intercourse with the body (Necrophilia)

See also


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