CAIRO, Egypt (AP) – An Australian teacher who allegedly stuffed his luggage with 2,000-year old animal mummies and religious figurines wrapped as gifts was arrested Wednesday and charged with smuggling antiquities, an Egyptian airport security official said.
The 61-year teacher was heading to Thailand when a security official became suspicious of the wrapped figurines that were placed amid souvenir ceramic pots in his suitcase.
When security officials opened the case, they found two mummies of a cat and an ibis, a long-beaked bird, both dating back to 300 B.C. The confiscated collection also included 19 figurines of the revered ancient Egyptian gods of Horus and Thoth, wrapped as gifts. Horus is a falcon-headed god, who represented the greatest cosmic powers for ancient Egyptians. Thoth is believed to have given the Egyptians the gift of hieroglyphic writing.
The man was arrested and has been charged with smuggling antiquities, which can carry a penalty of as much as 15 years.
The Egyptian antiquity chief Zahi Hawass said later in a statement that the seized artifacts altogether weighed about 12 pounds (5.5 kilograms).
An antiquity official at the airport described the bust as rare because of the number of items involved and the age of the items. The official spoke Wednesday on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Animal mummification was a common practice throughout Egyptian history. Thousands of mummified animals and many animal deity figurines were found from Egypt’s Late Period, between 330 B.C. and 30 B.C. Certain animals, such as ibises, falcons, and cats, were thought to be holy, the living representatives of Egyptian gods.
Another unlucky traveler in Cairo’s airport was stopped Wednesday with 56 cartridges, 20 pieces of live ammunition and an old bayonet that dates back to World War II.
A security official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the Canadian passenger, who was heading to Switzerland, was let free after the materials were confiscated.
The 26-year old teacher told the authorities he picked up the ammunition in the Egyptian north coast town El Alamein, the site of one of the most decisive battles in World War II. He said he was unaware transporting the ammunition would be illegal.
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