Gold diggers in Sudan have destroyed the country's archaeological sites in search of the precious metal.
A 2,000-year-old site 270 kilometres from the capital Khartoum has been dug up and left in ruins.
Sudanese archaeologist Habab Idris Ahmed said: "Their only goal of digging here is to get gold. They did a crazy job and to make up time they used heavy trucks." The specialist worked on the site in 1999 with a mission from the Boston University Museum, USA.
In addition to that, the team discovered two digging machines and five men working on them, having finished digging a hole 17 metres deep and 20 metres wide. They also noticed ground tracks of trucks that had transported the drilling equipment.
Almost nothing remains of the site that dates back to the era of the Kingdom of Meroe, which spanned 700 years from 350 BC to 350 AD and was a small settlement or checkpoint to secure the kingdom's borders.
The Director of the General Authority for Antiquities and Museums, Hatem Al-Nour, said: "The earth is made of Nubian sandstone and is covered with a layer of rust, the metal detector they use makes a sound because the stone contains iron, so they think that there is gold, and so they continue digging."
Though some of the perpetrators were arrested, they spent only a few hours in detention before being released without charge. They were also able to recover their tools
Professor of Archaeology at the University of Warsaw and former expert in the Sudan Antiquities Authority, Mahmoud Al-Tayeb, said: "They should have been imprisoned and their vehicles confiscated. This is the law."
"The real criminal is the boss. But it seems that he has good relations with higher authorities."
Sudan is ranked third among gold producers in Africa, behind South Africa and Ghana. Its total revenues from the precious metal last year amounted to $1.22 billion, according to the central bank.