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In January, she caught someone from the town attempting to dig up a mosaic and ceramics from a Roman site that contains a church.

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When a new site is discovered, instead of guarding it or moving the artefacts to somewhere secure, “the state documents it, they take photos and then they put the earth back over it”, Shili added.

As she surveys sites around Foussana for her research, Wafa Mouelhi, an archaeology masters student at the University of Tunis, takes pictures whenever she sees that someone has been digging.

Figures from the INP, which is tasked with protecting and recording the country’s artefacts, show that the team has received more than 25,000 recovered archaeological items since the 2011 uprising.

Today, the INP gets more than double the number of reports for Kasserine than it did before the uprising, said Mohamed Ben Nejma, head of the region for the institute, adding that the instability and chaos of conflict often provides a window for archaeological looting.

“It’s just pocket money, people sell things for less than they are worth,” he said.

Abdelbaki Idoudi, a civil servant from Foussena, said the country’s unprotected artefacts are fair game and that citizens have the right to benefit from rogue archaeological digs.

But the sheer number of small sites makes it impossible to keep an eye on all of them, said Nejma.

Ridha Shili, an expert in national heritage promotion with the University of Tunis, said it is the lack of proper excavation projects and cultural investment in general that leaves the Kasserine region open to looting.

In 2017, the Tunisian authorities seized a rare 15th-century Torah scroll that they thought was being smuggled to Europe.

More recently, in March customs seized 600 antique coins dating from the 2nd century from a car in the coastal town of Sfax.

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