A court has sentenced eight people to jail for looting three ancient tombs in Hunan province.
The defendants were sentenced to a maximum of one year and three months, with fines ranging from 3,000 yuan to 10,000 yuan (0 to ,500), according to the Youxian County People's Court.
The tombs, located in Wangling village of Youxian, were raided between July and September last year and sustained widespread damage.
The local cultural heritage department believes the tombs date to the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770-256 BC) and Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) and are of historical significance.
Nine items from the tombs - three bronze rings and six pieces of bronzeware - were retrieved.
According to the defendants, they exchanged information and organized themselves through instant-messaging tools. They had local people guide the way and only chose tombs that were not key relics under national protection.
"I know that stealing a cultural relic under State-level protection will lead to a sentence of at least several years. If they were not national relics, the sentence would be less severe if I got caught," one of the defendants told Shanghai news website ThePaper.cn.
Under the Criminal Law, excavation of historical sites under provincial or State protection will lead to sentences of at least 10 years, with a maximum of life imprisonment.
Wang Feng, an official at the cultural heritage bureau in Zhuzhou, told ThePaper that the looted tombs were not on the national cultural heritage list.