In the movies, treasure hunters are usually interested in the preservation of culture. In this particular incident, that’s unfortunately not the case. Illegal gold diggers in Sudan destroyed an 2,000-year-old archaeological site while hoping to strike it big.
Last month, when a team of archaeologists arrived at Jabal Maragha, an ancient site located 170 miles north of the country’s capital of Khartoum, they found five men with two mechanical diggers and almost no sign of the site — it was entirely destroyed.
Habab Idriss Ahmed, who excavated the area’s ruins in 1999, told Agence France-Presse, “They had only one goal in digging here — to find gold. They did something crazy; to save time, they used heavy machinery.”
Jabal Maragha was once a small settlement or a checkpoint within the Kingdom of Kush and in use between 350 BCE and 350 CE. Its grounds contains pyrite, a metallic rock which likely set off the gold hunters’ detectors. Prior to the incident, Jabal Maragha was a quiet and relatively untouched site.
Hatem al-Nour, Sudan’s director of antiquities and museums, told AFP that the illegal digging and looting is part of a larger trend. “Out of a thousand more or less well-known sites in Sudan, at least a hundred have been destroyed or damaged,” he said. “There is one policeman for 30 sites…and he has no communication equipment or adequate means of transport.”
While the treasure hunters were arrested, they were freed within a few hours and even recovered their excavators.