China Olympics Construction Unearths Ming Dynasty Tombs

Work on a shooting range for the 2008 Beijing Olympics has been suspended after the discovery of imperial-era tombs on the site, newspapers and an antiquities official said Monday.

The tombs, found in mid-April, are believed to date back five to six centuries to the Ming dynasty, and may be those of eunuchs serving at the imperial court, the Beijing Morning Post said.

Beijing has been the site of imperial and other capitals for more than 1,000 years, and many major building projects unearth gravesites or relics. Most are removed or destroyed before experts can examine them.

A spokeswoman for the Beijing Olympic organizers, Zhu Jing, said the find accounted for only a small part of the construction site and "shouldn't affect the work too seriously."

"We'll let everyone know if there is a major discovery," Zhu said.

An official of the Beijing Cultural Relics Department, Liu Baoshan, declined to give an age for the tombs and said no details would be released until a final report is drawn up.

Archaeologists have found coins, ceramics and jade in the tombs at the shooting range on the Chinese capital's western outskirts, the Post and other papers said.

An Associated Press photographer who visited the site Monday saw antiquities officials at work on several pits dug into an area on the edge of the construction site, where work otherwise appeared to have halted. Workers refused to answer questions and demanded the photographer leave the area.

Olympics organizers broke ground in July 2004 for the shooting range.

The main Olympic facilities are on Beijing's north side, while other facilities are scattered around the city.

Beijing has been racing ahead with construction of venues for the games. Most have proceeded smoothly, although there have been some protests by people whose homes have been destroyed to make way for new stadiums and gymnasiums.