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Heritage: Egyptian artefacts seized in Australia
Illegally exported ancient artefacts from Egypt which were discovered in Australia have been returned to the country's ambassador at a special ceremony in Canberra.

Egyptian artefacts seized in Australia
A range of Egyptian artefacts which were illegally taken out of the country 
were returned to the ambassador [Credit: ABC News/Liz Foschia]

The items were seized by Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers and Federal Arts Department representatives from an auction house and private home in Sydney under laws designed to protect cultural objects.

Local authorities were tipped off by Interpol about the historic items including a Coptic textile fragment and large saucer lamp.

Macquarie University's Ancient Cultures Research Centre director Naguib Kanawati was one of several examiners who was asked to assess the cultural significance of the artefacts.

"While the provenance is unknown, the objects are all funerary in nature and would have been found in a cemetery or multiple cemeteries," he said.

They include a wooden hand belonging to an anthropoid coffin, small statuettes of a man and woman to serve the deceased in the afterlife, as well as a number of amulets.

A preliminary examination by Australian Egyptologists suggested the items date from the New Kingdom to Coptic periods and that some pieces may be over 3,000-years-old.

"As sites were used for burials by successive generations at different stratigraphic levels it is not unusual to find objects belonging to different periods at the same site," Professor Kanawati said.

Egyptian artefacts seized in Australia
Ancient Egyptian statue of a woman seized by police in Sydney after 
a tip off from Interpol [Credit: ABC News/Liz Foschia]

Federal Arts Minister George Brandis handed the artefacts back at a formal ceremony at the Egyptian Embassy in Yarralumla.

"This is a splendid and significant occasion because it is not often that one government has the opportunity to return to another government, artefacts that are precious not only to Egypt but significant to the history of civilisation itself," he said.

Egypt's ambassador Dr Hassan El-Laithy welcomed the return of the significant items.

"One of the pieces that the Honourable Minister handed back over was a piece that witnessed the Coptic history and Christianity in Egypt... something we are very proud of," he said.

"Egypt was not only privileged by having its old civilisation of the Pharaohs, but also having prophets Moses and Jesus living in Egypt."

Last year Prime Minister Tony Abbott returned a 900-year-old bronze statue of the god Shiva to India that was found to have been looted from a temple in Tamil Nadu.

The statue had been purchased by the National Gallery of Australia in 2008 from a New York art dealer who became embroiled in a stolen art trafficking scandal.

Author: Liz Foschia | Source: ABC News Website [April 08, 2015]

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Heritage: Egyptian artefacts seized in Australia + Near East