An incredible haul of ancient artefacts personally found by a 95-year-old 'Tomb raider' is being held illegally in Perth, Egyptian archaeologists have claimed.
Joan Howard boasts a collection of antiquities worth $1 million which she unearthed during a series of Middle Eastern expeditions in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when it was legal to bring such artefacts back to Australia.
But after detailing her impressive collection in an interview with the West Australian, investigations have been launched into whether she's entitled to hold onto the precious relics under current laws.
Joan Howard (pictured) is accused of illegally possessing antiquities she collected during a series of Middle Eastern expeditions in the late 1960s and early 70s
Ms Howard, otherwise known as 'Indiana Joan', volunteered on archeological digs for around 11 years with British and American archaeologists in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel from around 1967 while her husband, Keith, was working with the United Nations.
Her diplomatic credentials meant she could travel freely throughout the region.
Her collection includes neolithic axe heads more than 40,000 years old, pottery and weapons from the Phoenicians and the Romans, coins and seals and jewellery from the time of the pharaohs, and a precious funerary mask from Egypt.
She said a favourite was a Roman dagger she found buried with the skeletal remains of its owner.
'Indianna Joan' boasts a collection of antiquities amassing upwards of $1 million in value
Another was the wrappings of a mummy's remains and a cat claw wound within it, indicating the deceased was buried with their pet.
While notably proud of her selection, she has come under fire from prominent archaeologist Monica Hanna who believes it is illegal for Ms Howard to have possession of the items.
Ms Hanna, who works closely with the Egyptian government, has called for all of the treasures to be returned to their rightful homelands.
'This is not something nice or fashionable to do to come and pretend to be Indiana Jones' Ms Hanna told The Sydney Morning Herald.
'We want to investigate how these pieces made it out of Egypt illegally,' she was quoted as saying.
She is boldly campaigning for the return of the pieces, having addressed an open letter to Australia's Ambassador to Egypt, Neil Hawkins, and gained 400 signatures in a petition.
Among her collection are neolithic axe heads more than 40,000 years old, pottery and weapons from the Phoenicians and the Romans
'It is not acceptable that Mrs. Howard behaved as a pirate and appropriated from the different archaeological sites,' the letter reads.
Ms Hanna claims to have had informal correspondence with the Australian embassy in Cairo, but not an official response.
The matter was being looked into by the government, according to a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman.
'Australia implements its obligations under the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970) … this includes the return of foreign cultural property which has been illegally exported from its country of origin and imported into Australia,' they said.
The convention sets out agreed rules for whether cultural artefacts from one signatory country can be taken to another, and how to deal with cases where such artefacts have been taken.
The convention came into force in 1972, and Australia did not accept obligations under the agreement until 1989 - years after Ms Howard travelled through the region and collected the artefacts.
It is possible that Ms Howard has 'valid title' under the convention to the artefacts because they were taken before it came into force.
If so, the originating country would need to 'furnish, at its expense, the documentation and other evidence necessary to establish its claim for recovery and return' of the artefacts.