Illegal gold diggers have destroyed a 2,000-year-old archaeological site in Sudan in the eastern region of the Sahara desert, official say. The Jabal Maragha site, which dates from the Meroitic period between 350 BC and 350 AD, is said to have either been a small settlement or a checkpoint. Officials from Sudan’s antiquities and museums department said when they visited the site, some 270km north of the capital Khartoum, last month they found two mechanical diggers and five men at work. They had excavated a vast trench about 17 metres deep, and 20 metres long. Sudan is home to hundreds of pyramids and other ancient sites, although they are not as well-known as those in its northern neighbour, Egypt. Sudan’s archaeologists warned that the destruction was not unique but part of a growing problem. At Sai, a 12km-long river island in the Nile, hundreds of graves, some dating back to the times of the pharaohs, have been raided and destroyed by looters. Sudan is Africa’s third largest producer of gold, after South Africa and Ghana, with commercial mining bringing in $1.2bn to the government last year, AFP reports. But illegal mining is said to be encouraged by some local authorities and businessmen who give machines to treasure hunters.