The Peruvian government said on Wednesday that it will seek to file criminal charges against Greenpeace activists who unfurled a protest banner next to the Nazca Lines -- a series of line drawings of archaeological importance in the Nazca desert in southern Peru -- on Monday. A senior minister from the Peruvian government said that the protesters had damaged the over 1,500-year-old site by leaving footprints near the drawings, according to media reports.

“It’s a true slap in the face at everything Peruvians consider sacred,” Luis Jaime Castillo, Peru’s deputy culture minister reportedly said, adding that the government was taking steps to ensure that the activists responsible for the damage do not leave the country. Under Peruvian laws, damage to archaeological monuments is punishable by up to six years in prison.

The Nazca Lines, which are a series of ancient geoglyphs etched into the arid planes of southern Peru, were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. The drawings are believed to have been created -- between the years 400 to 650 AD -- by removing a top layer of reddish pebbles, uncovering the grayish-white ground underneath. Visits to the site are closely supervised by the Peruvian culture ministry, which issues special footwear designed to minimize damage to the fragile desert soil.

Greenpeace, whose activists had entered an area reportedly described by the government as “strictly prohibited” and unfurled big yellow cloth letters reading “Time for Change! The Future is Renewable,” apologized for the offence caused to the people of Peru, in a statement released Wednesday.

“We fully understand that this looks bad. Rather than relay an urgent message of hope and possibility to the leaders gathering at the Lima U.N. climate talks, we came across as careless and crass,” Greenpeace said, in the statement. “We take personal responsibility for actions … we will cooperate fully with any investigation.”

The latest protest by Greenpeace, which frequently stages dramatic demonstrations against the actions of governments and corporations, was directed to capture the attention of delegates from over 190 nations who have gathered in Lima for the 20th session of United Nations Climate Change Conference.