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South Sudan catches gold fever

Adriane Ohanesian / Reuters

A Toposa boy walks along the Singaita River where gold has been found in Namorinyang, South Sudan.

Adriane Ohanesian / Reuters

A Toposa woman looks for gold in the Singaita River in Namorinyang, South Sudan.

Adriane Ohanesian / Reuters

A man digs a hole in search of gold in Napotpot, South Sudan.

Adriane Ohanesian / Reuters

A Toposa boy takes a rest after digging for gold in Napotpot, South Sudan.

Adriane Ohanesian / Reuters

A trader weighs his gold in a shop in Kapoeta, South Sudan.

Adriane Ohanesian / Reuters

A Toposa girl pans for gold in the Singaita River in Namorinyang, South Sudan.

Adriane Ohanesian / Reuters

Jackson Locheto from Kenya uses a gold detector in Nanakanak, South Sudan.

In South Sudan ordinary people have been extracting gold from artisanal mines and taking part in as-yet unregulated trade in the precious metal.

Reuters reports, dozens of Toposa tribesmen and women, festooned with plastic necklaces, brass piercings and beaded amulets, hack away at the red soil with metal poles and shovels, digging small craters in a boozy revelry.

"Everything is luck," said Leer Likuam on the edge of a shallow trench through a translator. On an average day he might dig up six grams, worth around 1,200 South Sudanese pounds ($270), he said. "Some days you're lucky."

Once he found a 200-gram gold nugget bigger than his thumb, boasts Likuam.

On the international market, Likuam's prize lump would fetch $11,000, an enormous sum in a country where the average teacher earns just 360 South Sudanese pounds, about $90, per month.

But now the government hopes to pass mining legislation that will formalize the industry, let them tax precious metal and mineral exports and sell concessions to large-scale investors. Read the complete article.

All images were captured by Reuters photographer Adriane Ohanesian in September and October 2012, but made available to NBC News today.

Adriane Ohanesian / Reuters

A shirt hangs in the window of a Sarko alcohol shop in Kapoeta, South Sudan.

Adriane Ohanesian / Reuters

A bowl holding small flakes of gold sits in the middle of Singaita River in Namorinyang, South Sudan.

Adriane Ohanesian / Reuters

A view of the Singaita River which flows down from the Lauro mountains and through Kapoeta, South Sudan.