The Diplomat’s Wife who stole Middle Eastern Treasures


Egyptian researcher of Egypt’s Heritage Taskforce Monica Hanna has uncovered the worst case of illegal pirating by Australian citizen Joan Howard, wife of Keith Howard who served as the Australian diplomat for the United Nations in 1967.

In her open letter to H.E. Neil Hawkins (Ambassador of Australia to Egypt) Monica Hanna wrote about Joan Howard’s illicit activities. Howard was a nurse but spent most of her time during her husband’s tenure overseas looting ancient archaeological sites in Egypt and Palestine. It was said in the West Australian, “Through her husband’s UN connections, over 11 years she was given carte blanche to travel between Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel. She used her diplomatic freedom to search for antiquities.”

Monica Hanna has since responded to the case saying, “It is not acceptable that Mrs. Howard behaved as a pirate and appropriated from the different archaeological sites. Mrs. Howard has broken all possible laws taking advantage of her diplomatic status.”

Coming from the academic field of archaeological and preservation of cultural heritage, Hanna further demanded that investigations be carried out for more of the sources of Howard’s collection that is now in Perth. Hanna has said that such objects should be repatriated if they were taken by illegal measures. Monica Hanna’s almost celebratory tone in her article of this case seems to cast a very negative image about the continued destruction of archaeological sites in modern times—especially since 2011. It is true that we must counter examples like Joan Howard not only for Egyptian heritage, but to protect the world’s heritage.

Joan Howard, wife of former Australian Diplomat for UN.

Joan Howard, wife of former Australian Diplomat for UN.

Monica Hanna also noted the problem of acquiring antiquities through methods of illegal digging and theft, these activities decontextualize cultural heritage and transform archeological finds from historical objects to mere aesthetic artifacts. Historical objects cannot and should not be traded like art. It is widely accepted that when such items are illegally excavated, they lose their original purpose, historical significance, as well as the intent of their product and usage. Legal scientific excavations take note of these aspects and work not only present artifacts for aesthetic appreciation but also to document every shred of historical information to reconstruct these precious historical objects.

Monica Hanna

Monica Hanna


Hanna closes with her statement emphasizing preservation of Egyptian cultural artifacts, “The illegal market leaves the Egyptian cultural heritage with holes that cannot be filled and many stories that cannot be told about the past.”

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