Close to one hundred people in central China’s Shaanxi province were spotted crawling along a national highway on Wednesday morning, collecting flecks of what they reportedly believed was gold.

According to local news site Huashang Net, however, the “gold” was in fact sulfur powder that was scattered along the ground as a logistics firm loaded lorries full of the foul-smelling chemical element.


Media reports describe how attempts by traffic police to disperse the crowd from the intersection of China National Highway 108 and Xinxing Road North in Mian County were “useless.”


According to a nearby business owner, people began collecting the powder at 6am; more and more people joined the frenzy and by 10am the road surface was filled with would-be gold collectors.


Order was not restored to local traffic until 4:00pm that afternoon.

Ryan Ho Kilpatrick is an award-winning journalist and scholar from Hong Kong who has reported on the city’s politics, protests, and policing for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, TIME, The Guardian, The Independent, and others