Police recovered the tomb artefacts as part of an investigation that has led to a prosecution in Egypt, a spokeswoman for the department of environment and heritage in Sydney said on Tuesday.

The seven objects include small funerary statuettes (shabtis), a bronze axe head, a ceramic bowl and amulets.

"The smuggling ring came to light a couple of years ago and the items have been sought internationally since then," the spokeswoman said. "They were identified in March and seized by police."

The identification took place in the Australian city of Melbourne.

She said no arrests had been made in Australia since the artefacts were smuggled out of Egypt under false papers as reproductions before being sold in Australia.

Handover

"Australia is one of the first countries to return objects associated with this case to the Egyptian people," Environment and Heritage Minister Ian Campbell said after handing them to Egyptian officials at a ceremony at Parliament House in Canberra.

The burial items were meant to
help the dead in the afterlife

"While Egyptian authorities say they cannot put a commercial value on the artefacts, they are precious in terms of their cultural value and they belong with the Egyptian people."

The antiquities are among items that were placed in tombs in ancient Egypt to provide the dead with goods and services in the afterlife.

They were originally found in the Memphis necropolis, the area beyond the escarpment of the western desert overlooking the Nile river valley and running between Giza and Sakkara, the heritage department said.

Guilty conscience

Egypt has also recovered an inscribed piece of pharaonic alabaster that an American man picked up in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings in 1958 and took home, chief government archaeologist Zahi Hawass says.

Shortly before his death, the man gave the piece to a friend, a professor at the University of California, and told him he had always felt guilty about pocketing it.

The inscription suggests it came from the tomb of Pharaoh Seti I, who ruled Egypt from 1318 to 1304 BCE and was buried close to the tomb of Tutankhamun.

The professor had the inscription translated and found that it contained the cartouche, or royal name sign, of Seti I, the father of the powerful ruler Ramesses II.

The professor read about Hawass, a regular guest on US television, in National Geographic magazine and wrote to him explaining what he had.

The piece arrived by courier on Monday, Hawass said.