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In 2017, the Tunisian authorities seized a rare 15th-century Torah scroll that they thought was being smuggled to Europe.
“It might have been partly to do with state interests,” said Jrad.
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.
Objects of significant historical and cultural value often end up on the European market and in the homes of Tunisia’s rich and powerful, he explained.
The issue was brought into the spotlight in 2011, when Tunisia’s ousted autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, currently exiled in Saudi Arabia, was sentenced to 35 years in prison in the first of several trials for a range of crimes, including possession of archaeological artefacts.
“The state left of all of (the artefacts) and doesn’t look after them,” he said.