Egypt accuses 95-year-old Australian 'tomb raider' of stealing artifacts

Egypt accuses 95-year-old Australian 'tomb raider' of stealing artifacts
A 95-year-old Australian woman has been thrust into an international debate, after being accused of 'stealing' ancient artifacts from historical sites in the Middle East, including Egypt, Jordan and Palestine.
2 min read
25 Nov, 2017
Howard [not pictured] collected Ancient Egyptian artifacts during the 1960s [United Artists]

Referred to as Indiana Joan due to the huge number of artefact she acquired during her treasure hunts around the Middle East, a 95-year-old Australian has been thrust into the heart of an international storm.

Having built up an estimated $1 million collection of Roman coins, Egyptian funeral masks, Neolithic axe heads, and ancient jewellery, Joan Howard has been targeted by archaeologists and governments who want the treasures to be returned home. 

Howard built up her collection when she travelled around the Middle East with her UN husband during the 1960s and 1970s.

She is accused of using her diplomatic status to travel unhindered across Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine during her 11 years in the region, to collect artefacts some dating back 40,000 years old.

The Perth local did this by volunteering on archaeological digs in the region, which allowed her to bring invaluable finds back to Australia, the newspaper found.

"She used her diplomatic freedom to search for antiquities before laws changed and it became legally difficult to do so," The West Australian reported in November during a profile of Howard.

Unveiling her secret treasure trove, the article led to an international backlash with culture ministries, historians and archaeologists all calling out the nonagenarian.

"We want to investigate how these pieces made it out of Egypt illegally," Shaaban Abdel Gawad, Egypt's director-general of the Retrieved Antiquities Department told the Sydney Morning Herald.

He said that the Egyptian foreign ministry is pursuing the case, but it is not clear if Howard has broken any laws.

Monica Hanna, an Egyptian archaeologist, has started a campaign to retrieve the items.

"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."