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Egyptian artefacts are homeward bound

A hoard of stolen ancient Egyptian artefacts were yesterday returned to Egypt after a whirlwind few months of travel.

Office for the Arts representative Sally Basser handed the 122 artefacts to ambassador Omar Metwally in Canberra on behalf of Arts Minister Simon Crean.

Australian authorities originally seized the items in Melbourne at an auction house in November.

The ancient artefacts had been smuggled from Egypt to Australia.

Secretary to the ambassador, Ahmed Abu Moussa, said they were notified of the objects' location in Australia thanks to the internet.

Both the Egyptian and Australian governments have worked together to ensure the items were safely returned to Egypt, where they would be tested and verified by Egyptian authorities.

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The objects range from miniature amulets to larger pieces and come from the Neolithic and Greco-Roman eras, dating from about 146BC to 415AD.

Ms Basser noted the cultural significance of the artefacts, saying they demonstrated the evolution of Egyptian culture and civilisation, and the importance of holding on to heritage and history.

''The objects may now make their way back home to where they belong, to Egypt and the Egyptian people,'' Ms Basser said.

''[The artefacts] some of which date back to the 4th millennium BC ... will return home thanks to the determination and close co-operation from people in Australia and Egypt.''

The Australian Government took these issues seriously and hoped the two governments could continue working co-operatively.

Ms Basser said buyers must ensure any cultural artefacts they purchased were accompanied by correct documentation to ensure their legality.

The ambassador thanked the Australian Government and especially the Office for the Arts, for the successful return of the historical items.

Last year, Australia and Egypt celebrated the 60th anniversary of the establishment of formal relations at diplomatic, archaeological and cultural levels.