Aussie ‘tomb raider’ enrages Egypt
EGYPT has taken aim at a 95-year-old collector from Perth - dubbed Indiana Joan - criticising her collection of antiquities.
The ancient artefacts, including a funerary mummy mask and a hollowed-out crucifix from the time of Christ, were revealed when Joan Howard opened her treasure trove for an article with The West Australian. The antiquities are said to be worth around $1 million.
They were collected during the 1960s and early 1970s at a time when the law permitted Ms Howard to bring the artefacts back to Australia. It has since become legally difficult to do so.
After seeing the piece, Monica Hanna, a prominent archaeologist who works closely with the Egyptian government, wrote an open letter on Facebook demanding an investigation.
"I demand that an investigation should be carried out on the sources of Mrs. Howard's collection now in Perth," she wrote.
"The celebratory tone of the article of her boasting on the destruction of archaeological sites sends a very negative image."
In the newspaper interview, Mrs Howard described how her husband, Keith, was posted to a senior role in the Middle East with the United Nations in the late-1960s.
This allowed her to volunteer on archaeological digs with British and American archaeologists Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel.
Her collection reportedly also includes neolithic axe heads more than 40,000 years old, pottery and weapons from the Phoenicians and the Romans, coins and seals and jewellery from the time of the pharaohs.
Incensed by what she read, Ms Hanna started a petition, which has collected more than 400 signatures.
She is strong proponent of leaving archaeological sites as they were found.
"Thus we call for an investigation on the sources of Mrs. Howard's collection now in Perth and an initiative for legal action over their repatriation to their countries of origin."
A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman said the government was looking into the matter.
"Australia implements its obligations under the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970) … this includes the return of foreign cultural property ... imported into Australia [where appropriate]," the spokesman said.
In her open letter, Ms Hana said history is at stake.
"Scientific legal excavations, besides aesthetically appreciating the object, works on documenting every shed of information possible to reconstruct these multiple histories of the objects.
"We need to ... safeguard not only Egyptian heritage, but also world heritage in general," Ms Hanna added in her open letter.
News.com.au has contacted Mrs Howard for comment.
Fairfax Media could not contact Howard, but a family member speaking on her behalf said, "We have no comment".