95-year-old 'Indiana Joan' investigated over collection

Her collection of ancient artifacts, worth more than $750,000, includes a Roman dagger, Neolithic ax heads, a mummy mask, and a crucifix from the era of Jesus Christ—treasures unearthed in Egypt, Syria, Israel, and beyond.

But her boasts about them have some red with anger rather than green with envy. After the West Australian explored Joan Howard's collection, which she has stored in Perth, Egypt's Heritage Taskforce demanded the Australian government investigate the 95-year-old—dubbed "Indiana Joan"—whom it accuses of looting ancient artifacts while her husband, Keith Howard, worked in senior roles with the UN in the Middle East in the 1960s and '70s.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says an investigation is now underway and any illegal items found will be returned to their country of origin, reports the Australian AP.

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The West Australian stressed Howard took the artifacts—including some she found while volunteering on digs—"before laws changed and it became legally difficult to do so." The UNESCO convention preventing illicit transport of such items, for instance, was passed in 1970.

But the BBC reports individual countries Howard visited have had similar laws on the books since the 1950s; Egypt has had laws protecting its artifacts since the 1880s.

Archaeologist Monica Hanna of Egypt's Heritage Taskforce argues in an open letter that Howard "behaved as a pirate. ... These activities decontextualize the cultural heritage," leaving it "with holes that cannot be filled." If the collection remains with Howard, it will go "where it should go" upon her death, Howard has said, without elaborating.

(This American couple was forced to give up their $1.75 million painting.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Uproar Leads to Probe of 95-Year-Old 'Indiana Joan'