95-year-old Australian, Joan Howard, is currently under investigation following newspaper coverage of her extensive collection of ancient Middle Eastern artifacts, the Associated Press reported.
Howard, the wife of a UN diplomat, used her travels to the region to join archaeology digs in the 1960s and 70s and was recently featured in The West Australian newspaper, showcasing her extensive collection, which has prompted outrage.
Archaeologists have called for an investigation into her collection and AP soon reported that Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs is now looking into the matter.
Shaaban Abdel Gawad, the director-general of the Retrieved Antiquities Department at Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, told the Sydney Morning Herald that Egypt’s Foreign Ministry had requested the investigation.
“We want to investigate how these pieces made it out of Egypt illegally,” he told the newspaper.
The artifacts are worth over EGP 13 million, including a funeral mask from an Egyptian mummy, Neolithic axe heads dating back 40,000 years, Roman weapons, and coins and jewelry from ancient Egypt.
Despite the controversy, it is not clear if Howard broke any national or international laws as the UNESCO convention on the illicit trade of cultural property was only adopted in 1970.
The original profile piece, published in early November by The West Australian, nicknamed Howard “Indiana Joan” after Harrison Ford’s fictional globetrotting archaeologist character.
It called her Australia’s “real life tomb raider” who had “a mischievous twinkle” in her eye when talking about her collection – which it said is worth more than A$1m (£571,000).
“Through her husband’s UN connections, over 11 years she was given carte blanche to travel between Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel,” the newspaper reported.
“She used her diplomatic freedom to search for antiquities before laws changed and it became legally difficult to do so,” it added.