In an act of goodwill from the Australian to the Egyptian Government, 122 priceless Egyptian artefacts seized by Australian authorities from a Melbourne dealer were handed over yesterday at the Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt in Yarralumla.
The objects, dating from the Neolithic period should Greco-Roman Egypt, include miniatures, amulets, inscribed stone, busts and figurines of incalculable value.
In the absence of Federal Arts Minister Simon Crean, the first assistant secretary in the Office for the Arts, Sally Basser, presented the objects to Egyptian ambassador Omar Metwally, explaining that Australia had legislated for the protection of movable cultural heritage in 1986.
She urged those at the launch, including senior academics from the ANU and representatives of the Department of the Arts, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Department of Foreign Affairs, to take an interest in the question of cultural theft. “All have a role to play,” she said.
Ms Basser said that the objects, some of them “tantalising fragments,” had been seized after the department was tipped off in November last year about an upcoming sale of artefacts at a Melbourne auction house.
Egypt, which has had protection legislation for its cultural heritage since 1850s, told the Australian Government it would like the objects back and a process began which saw the antiquities , seized, stored by Museums Victoria and finally shipped to Canberra.
The ambassador welcomed the gesture as a sign of the good relations that had prevailed between Egypt and Australia since the beginning of diplomatic relations in 1950.