By Ryan Velez
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Egypt is furious with a 95-Year-Old Australian woman, who is accused of stealing several precious artifacts. Joan Howard — dubbed "Indiana Joan" — has been accused by a group of concerned Egyptian archaeologists of looting artifacts from Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine.
Howard is a well-traveled woman, using her diplomatic freedom afforded by her husband's job with the United Nations to travel between Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel, where she volunteered on archaeological digs with British and American archaeologists in the 60s and 70s. Since then, laws have been changed to make it illegal to dig for and remove antiquities. Howard is accused of having Neolithic axe heads, pottery and weapons from the Phoenicians and the Romans, coins and seals and jewelry from the time of the pharaohs, and a precious funerary mask from Egypt. This totals over $1 million in value.
In an interview, Howard told a newspaper she felt "absolute wonder and astonishment" when she looked at these artifacts. Asked why she had kept quiet about her haul until now, she said: "You don't go round saying 'I've been in a tomb'." Not everyone is happy, with archaeologist Monica Hanna saying that this is outright cultural theft.
"I was really appalled by her attitude because she broke the law", Hanna told Fairfax Media. "This is not something nice or fashionable to do to come and pretend to be Indiana Jones".
Shaaban Abdel Gawad, the director-general of the Retrieved Antiquities Department at Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities said, "We want to investigate how these pieces made it out of Egypt illegally."
Egypt's foreign ministry has contacted Australian authorities to open an investigation, Gawad said, and Neil Hawkins, Australia's ambassador to Egypt, was aware of the case. Hanna has since started a petition to have the artifacts repatriated to the countries in question.
Fairfax Media could not contact Howard, but a family member speaking on her behalf said, "We have no comment".
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 which has been illegally exported from its country of origin and imported into Australia.”