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Page last updated at 23:49 GMT, Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Man accused of smuggling mummies

Fragment of a column depicting Egyptian god Horus
The falcon-headed god Horus was a revered figure in ancient Egypt

An Australian man has been arrested at Cairo airport after security staff found ancient Egyptian animal mummies in his luggage, reports say.

An airport official said the mummies of a cat and an ibis, a long-beaked bird, dated back to 300 BC.

He said another 19 figurines of ancient Egyptian gods were also found in the passenger's bags.

The man has been charged with smuggling antiquities, which can carry a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.

According to the Associated Press, an antiquity official at the airport described the seizure as rare because of the number of items involved and their age.

The figurines found in the passenger's luggage were of the Egyptian gods Horus and Thoth.

Horus is a falcon-headed deity, who represented the greatest cosmic powers for ancient Egyptians.

Thoth is believed to have given the Egyptians the gift of hieroglyphic writing.

Animal mummification was a common practice throughout Egyptian history.

Thousands of mummified animals and many animal deity figurines have been found from Egypt's Late Period, between 330 BC and 30 BC.

Certain animals, such as ibises, falcons, and cats, were thought to be holy, the living representatives of Egyptian gods.

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