The artefacts were yesterday handed to the Cambodian embassy in Canberra after they were seized under laws prohibiting the importation of protected cultural objects.
Among more than 20 objects were bronze earrings and wrist and leg bangles, some of which had been discovered with human remains inside. Authorities were alerted after the artefacts were listed for sale on eBay by a gallery in Melbourne.
Their authenticity was confirmed in an investigation by the government and Heritage Watch, a Phnom Penh non-profit organisation working to stop heritage destruction.
Arts Minister Simon Crean said: “Illegally removing human remains and cultural property deprives countries of their ancestry and history.”
The maximum penalty in Australia for removing cultural objects without an export permit is $100,000, or a five-year jail sentence.
The government said the Melbourne antique dealer would not be prosecuted.
A spokesperson for the Arts Department refused to publicly identify the culprit, citing privacy requirements. The government will “continue to monitor the dealer” for breaches of the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act.
Heritage Watch director Dougald O’Reilly, also a lecturer in archeology at the Australian National University, said looting of prehistoric sites — not just religious sites — was a growing problem in Cambodia.
There was a huge blackmarket in antiquities, but prosecuting offenders was difficult, he said.
“Definitely, the law of Cambodia was broken for these things to appear here, because . . . there’s no documentation.”