ANKARA, Turkey – ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Police have raided a house used by people suspected of digging illegally for antiquities and discovered two tunnels leading to an underground tomb that housed an ancient marble coffin and frescoes, officials said Friday.
Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay described the discovery near the town of Milas, in western Turkey, as an "important archaeological find" and ordered digs in surrounding areas, Haber Turk newspaper reported.
Looting of ancient artifacts is common in Turkey, and the country has imposed heavy penalties to deter illegal digs. But the Milas discovery is the first time in years that authorities have found what could be an important archaeological site while chasing looters.
The 2,800-year-old carved coffin, decorated with reliefs of a bearded reclining man, probably belonged to Hecatomnus, who ruled over Milas, according to Turkey's Culture Ministry.
Several treasures that would have been placed in the underground tomb were most likely looted by the treasure hunters and sold in the illegal antiquities trade, the ministry said.
A court has arrested and charged five of 10 people detained in the raid, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.
Anatolia, which was allowed to enter the tomb, said the suspects had dug two tunnels — 6 and 8 meters (yards) long, from the house and an adjacent barn, leading to the tomb that is buried some 10 meters (yards) deep.
They used sophisticated equipment to drill through the thick marble walls of the tomb and were working to remove the coffin from the underground chamber when they were detained, according to the Culture Ministry.
"I would have wished that this (archaeological find) had been discovered through our digs and not through digs conducted by a band of treasure hunters," Anatolia quoted Gunay as saying.
"This is not an ordinary treasure hunt. It is very organized and it is obvious that they received economic and scientific help," Gunay said, adding that Turkey also would investigate the suspects possible overseas links.