Thieves undertook an illegal excavation in the Roman Cemetery of Ancient Lyttos in Crete last week, digging for antiquities in several places. Local residents discovered the pits dug in a field and informed the police. However the illegal excavations continued in spite of police patrols, showing that the thieves were observing police movements and acting when the field was clear. Archaeologists hurried to the area, while a better plan of police protection for the area has been drawn up.
The Archaeological Service believes that no significant finds of objects or bones were made, and it is probable that even if graves were discovered, they had already been robbed.
The police authorities and archaeologists believe that the thieves are from neighbouring villages and know the local area well enough to avoid discovery and evade pursuit.
The problem of the theft of antiquities is still a major one in Crete due to lack of security in archaeological sites and state inability to carry out excavations. Recently, archaeologist Antonis Vassilakis pointed out that illegal excavations are happening everywhere, especially in the winter, even close to inhabited areas. The Asterousia Mountains, Tsoutsouras, ancient Lyttos, Viannos and the archaeological sites of Mt Kofinas have all been targeted repeatedly.
In many cases items are stolen to order according to detailed lists and smuggled abroad for the illicit trade in antiquities, at eye-watering prices.
As a result of illegal excavations, archaeological sites are not only looted but destroyed by robbers who dig hastily and with total disregard for the damage they cause.