Mrs. Joan Howard, nicknamed Indiana Joan, is a 95-year-old woman accused of tomb raiding in the 1960s and 1970s.

Indiana Joan’s $1 Million Artifact Collection Has Got Her in a Spot of Bother


Ninety-five-year-old Joan Howard proudly showed off her collection of ancient artifacts to a local newspaper in Australia, not realizing that he story was to spark a worldwide controversy. Now nicknamed “Indiana Joan”, many have come to question how this woman had been allowed to carry on her tomb raiding activities for so many years, and how much of her collection was illegally acquired.

As the wife of a UN diplomat, The West Australian reports that Mrs. Howard had connections which granted her access to sites across Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel for 11 years. She collected various objects when she volunteered for archaeological digs in the 1960s and 1970s.

According to BBC News , Mrs. Howard’s artifact collection has been estimated to be worth over one million dollars (£571,000). Some of the items from her personal collection which have been highlighted by the media include: an Egyptian funerary mask, Phoenician and Roman weapons, a 40,000-year-old Neolithic axe head, and various coins, seals, and jewelry.

Representative example of a Neolithic axe head.

Representative example of a Neolithic axe head. ( The Portable Antiquities Scheme/ The Trustees of the British Museum )

The West Australian article gave Mrs. Joan Howard the nickname “Indiana Joan” for the exciting nature of how she obtained the artifacts. A video with Mrs. Howard describes her filling buckets in dark tombs while being surrounded by scorpions. The risky nature of her tomb raiding reaches a peak when she tells the story of how a bullet whizzing by burnt off her hair.

While certainly interesting as a tale, there may be an issue with presenting Mrs. Howard’s exploits in such a Hollywood-fashion. Archaeologist Dr. Monica Hanna has argued “The celebratory tone of the article of her boasting on the destruction of archaeological sites sends a very negative image.” Also in reaction to The West Australian article, others have stated “‘tomb raiding’ is not archaeology. It is unethical and should not be celebrated.”

Screenshot from ‘Rise of the Tomb Raider.’

Screenshot from ‘Rise of the Tomb Raider.’ (Stefans02/ CC BY 2.0 )

As we know, tomb raiding and selling artifacts on the black market is still a serious business today. Yet most people would agree that the looting and destruction of archaeological sites is not ethical or legal these days. Should we view this any differently in regards to past events? Before jumping to a response, consider that some of the early “archaeologists” have committed acts much like those completed by Mrs. Howard. When is the cutoff date for destruction in the search of treasure and looting being considered unethical? Is there even one?

Giovanni Battista Belzoni, by William Brockedon.

Giovanni Battista Belzoni, by William Brockedon. ( Public Domain ) He is one of many who burst into tomb KV20 when he arrived at the Egyptian Valley of the Kings.

The West Australian article suggests that Mrs. Howard took the artifacts from the countries at a time when it was legal for her to do so and states that she has donated some artifacts to a local museum. However, there is some debate on the legal nature. BBC News mentions that Egypt has had a national law to protect its antiquities since the 1880s and many of the other locations where Mrs. Howard’s artifacts come from had similar laws in place since the 1950s.

However, the UNESCO convention regarding the illicit trade of cultural property wasn’t put into action until 1970 and that seems to be the most important consideration for Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – which says it is looking further into the issue. A spokesperson for the department told IBTimes UK :

“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.”

Apart from the legal concerns expressed by Dr. Hanna, Shaaban Abdel Gawad, the director-general of the Retrieved Antiquities Department at Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, said that Egypt's foreign ministry has also requested investigations into Mrs. Howard’s collection. He said, “We want to investigate how these pieces made it out of Egypt illegally.”

Egyptian Mummy in Laboratory (Bigstock)

Egyptian Mummy in Laboratory (Bigstock)

For her part, Mrs. Howard has already decided that the bulk of her collection will “go somewhere where it will be thoroughly appreciated and understood” when she passes away. However, the exact location, or locations, is unknown.

Should Mrs. Howard’s artifacts be repatriated? What do you think of the way her tomb raiding has been presented in the media thus far?

Top Image: Mrs. Joan Howard, nicknamed Indiana Joan, is a 95-year-old woman accused of tomb raiding in the 1960s and 1970s. Source: Screenshot 7 News

By Alicia McDermott


Where's fantastic treasures are to be found, no matter the risks or potential threats to life and limb, humans will go to every length to find and recover them. Case in point is the OAK ISLAND fiasco airing on the History Channel. Millions of dollars have been spent digging, drilling, diving, metal detecting, researching, theorizng, wondering, where the supposed Pirate, Buckineer,Templar, gold hoard treasure is.So far they very little to show for their efforts.

The fictional character Lady Lara Croft is called a Tomb Raider, of sorts , following in her Archaeologist fathers footsteps. She's a British Goverment SPY, DIPLOMAT, Aventuress, Archaeologist and seeker of rare artifacts that have powerful supernatural powers. Her mission is to locate these first before some rougue agencies out for world domination can get their hands on them. She'll slip into some archaeological dig - and steal what they are looking for. Which is actually common practice around the world if a site isn't guarded and protected around the clock...

Indiana Jones is the male version of Lara Croft - only he is a college proffessor teaching Archaeoological History... and he too is a Diplomat of the College, Government Agent, Aventurer, Treasure Seeker, Tomb Raider, and a rougue with the ladies. Jones has found the The Arc of the Covenant and experienced first hand the Wrath of God and survived! Top that Lara!

Thrilling stuff for Movies. Also bad for actual Archaeologist who have submit for foreign Government Permits telling what it is they are hoping to find, wait for permission, gather the Professional Phd degreed Professorial Achaeologist, Student helpers, Equipment and Supplies,Arrange Travel, and get all the other professional individuals from the hosting nation to monitor their activities. That is a far cry from Tomb Raiding! Of course, if the team discovers something wonderful and it has never been seen before - Great Acolades , Fame and rise in ranks of Archaeology is assured.


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