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Australia returns Indian antiquities

AAP logoAAP 19/09/2016

Australia has returned another two ancient sculptures with questionable provenance to India but there could be at least eight more on their way home.

The 12th century Goddess Pratyangira and 3rd century Worshippers of the Buddha antiquities were handed back to Indian officials on Monday in a ceremony at the National Gallery in Canberra.

The gallery bought the two items from the Art of the Past dealership in New York in 2005 but there are concerns one was illegally exported from India and the other part of an illicit art trade.

After a review of the provenance of Asian artworks bought by the gallery and further investigations last year, the gallery decided to hand them back for ethical reasons.

Arts Minister Mitch Fifield said the items have been of huge significance to the gallery and greatly admired by the public.

"This was a decision not taken lightly by the gallery," he told reporters on Monday.

At least eight other objects bought from the same dealership are the focus of investigations, but the gallery can't give a time frame for when and if they'll wrap those up.

India's Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma, who took part in the handover ceremony, said the return would "add colour and beauty" to bilateral relations.

The items will be displayed in India's National Museum, he said.

"They have emotional value for us."

In 2014 the gallery returned to India the 12th century bronze Dancing Shiva, a 900-year-old statue bought in 2008 for $5.6 million, which turned out to be stolen.

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