14 - 20 November 2002
Issue No.612
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Digging by the book

A new department for foreign archaeological missions was created earlier this year. Seven months down the line Jill Kamil and Nevine El-Aref talk to Supreme Council of Antiquities Secretary-General Zahi Hawass about the additional rules and responsibilities required of missions working in Egypt


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Clockwise from top: An Egyptian/Dutch mission in action at Saqqara excavating the tomb of high priest Mery-Neith; just beneath the agricultural land at Ezzat Mansheit near Mansoura, an ancient settlement is unearthed; buried beneath layers of silt at ancient Thmuis in the Delta, a Roman bath is unearthed
The creation of new Department of Foreign Archaeological Missions (DFAM) has been sending ripples of concern among non-Egyptian archaeologists. Some foreign missions, even those of long-standing in Egypt, appear to be unsure as to how the rules set out by the new department differ from the old. Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) Secretary-General Zahi Hawass clarified the issue in an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly.

"Applications for concessions for foreign missions to excavate in Egypt remain much the same as those implemented 20 years ago under the Antiquities Law of 1981," Hawass said. "But there are some slight adjustments which have been designed to activate those rules which were not strictly adhered to."

Hawass said personal applications for mission members with full details of each applicant had always been necessary for security clearance, along with a fee of LE10.50 to be paid to the Security Department.

"There has been no change there," Hawass said. "And any addition of members to the missions' team after this acceptance is prohibited, as it always has been. Also prohibited is the dispatch of any samples or specimens for analysis abroad -- all material excavated must be examined in the Research and Maintenance Laboratory of the SCA, or in approved alternative Egyptian laboratories.

"However," he continued, "some of the laws tabled in 1981 have not been implemented and we are now setting out to ensure that they are. For example, missions are obliged to publish the final result of their excavation at any given site within five years, but this has never been done. Nor has the rule to consolidate the monument[s] on completion of the work been strictly adhered to. As a result many are left open to the elements and rapidly deteriorate."

Hawass said the aim of the new department was to enable the SCA to become more involved in the work of foreign missions with the aim of preserving Egypt's heritage. "Until now some have worked in isolation, to do as they pleased, and unfortunately there are those who still put their priority on treasure-hunting," he said.

This might be understandable. For one thing, finding objects is much more exciting than consolidating monuments. For another, working archaeologists need to prove to their fund- raisers that what they are doing is worthwhile from an investment point of view, and there is nothing more convincing than a "find", even if only a slither of gold leaf or broken schwepte figure.

"What we have to do now is pause for a while," Hawass said. "We need to concentrate on scientific documentation and rapid publication, as well as the restoration of the monuments. The new rules or readjustments implemented by the new department are designed to facilitate cooperation between foreign missions and the SCA, not to make things more difficult for them."

Hawass stressed that security clearance had always been necessary for each member of a foreign mission. "But there are now some additional requirements which are necessary because over the last 10 years some missions have excavated in Egypt which were not affiliated to archaeological institutions. This has to be avoided at all costs. Therefore, apart from the applicants' full name, date of birth and nationality, five photocopies of his or her passport, position in the mission, institution of affiliation, and religion must be submitted to the SCA three months prior to the beginning of the excavation season. The source of funding and the amount of the grant must also be declared on the application form for every mission."

As for those missions who wish to work at a location close to their concession area, in the Western or Eastern Deserts or in coastal regions, 11 survey maps signed by the mission director need to be submitted to the SCA, also three months in advance. These must be either on a 1:50,000 or 1:25,000 scale.

Hawass pointed out that according to Presidential Decree No 413 of 1998 some few areas of Egypt were restricted, even for research purposes. "These are located at the edge of Egypt's borders: the northern border from Mersa Wadi Lahmi on the Red-Sea coast to Kom-Ombo; the southern border, latitude 22 from the Red-Sea coast to Ashkeet; the western border, from the eastern shore of Lake Nasser, including Kom-Ombo, Aswan and El-Mafarq to Ashkeet on latitude 22; and finally, the eastern border which is the Red Sea coastline. This situation remains," he said.

"In order for the SCA to control excavations, each mission concession area must be clearly defined and a specific excavation plan outlined," Hawass said. "Before work begins, the head of the mission is required to submit two reports defining the borders of the excavation area, each signed by the director of the mission and the SCA inspector. No new concessions will be granted to any individual team member wishing to create a new excavation area within the designated concession of the mission but not specified in the original agreement. Nor," Hawass said, "will the working mission be allowed to open new sites elsewhere in Egypt until such time as they publish their current site completely."

Hawass went on to explain that foreign missions excavating in Egypt would be granted only one season per year. "Should they request an extension within that year, all the initial formalities regarding application etc. will have to be repeated. It would make more sense, and would be much more convenient, for missions to determine the length of time they anticipate necessary for their work and make the appropriate request right from the start."

One of the other adjustments to the original law concerns the renewal of the concessions with the SCA. "Sometimes missions wish to change members of their team, or add to them, in which case reapplication must be made," Hawass said. "It is absolutely essential that we know where the various missions are working, and who exactly is working there. Sometimes missions bring in graduate or undergraduate students, in which case they are welcome provided they obtain permission for study or research at archaeological sites through their university advisers and on the understanding that the SCA cannot grant them an official certificate for the work carried out -- although we are happy to give them brief written recognition."

Hawass pointed out that under the original law missions were meant to send periodical archaeological reports to the SCA in their mother- tongue. "But according to the new regulations an Arabic translation must accompany the original in order for it to be published in the SCA's official bulletin. This will enable our Egyptian archeologists to be fully acquainted with work in progress," he said.

In defining the requirements of the new DFAM, Hawass outlined the new responsibilities of each. One is to provide five copies of the mission's preliminary report, written in English, immediately after the end of the season and prior to the mission's departure. A second is to offer five copies of any recently published work on the site, written by the mission, to the department "in order to distribute them to the libraries and museums of the SCA". Third, each mission is responsible for the safeguarding and conservation of recently discovered artifacts and the restoration of tombs and temples discovered. "Any expedition that fails to conserve the findings of their season's activities will not be allowed to further excavate their concession area until that conservation is complete." In addition, each mission must submit a report every three months on the work carried out and notify the secretary-general of the SCA immediately if any discoveries are made.

Under the old antiquities law, missions were required to construct suitable storehouses for their discoveries. A new burden will be to provide adequate containers for storing and protecting the artifacts. "Transport from the site to the storehouses or museums will be at the mission's expense," Hawass said.

As for the antiquities inspectors, Hawass said these were qualified archaeologists who had undergone the necessary training and that they would, in future, be rotated each season. "No mission has the right to request a specific inspector for consecutive seasons," Hawass said. "On the other hand, any problems concerning the behaviour of an accompanying inspector should be reported immediately to the SCA."

Regarding the new policies adopted by the DFAM, Hawass had this to say: "While the SCA does not intend to stop any archaeological mission currently working between Giza to Abu Simbel, no new concessions will be granted for the upcoming 10 years; each is given five years in which to complete work in progress after which, following publication of their work, the SCA will evaluate the result. If it considers it appropriate and beneficial for the work to continue, the concession will be renewed. Otherwise, the only new concessions in the Nile Valley will be for restoration, epigraphic work, and Geographical Information Systems."

"There are many missions working on the Theban necropolis whose activities must be controlled and their work evaluated," Hawass said. "This can only be done through the newly organised Permanent Committee for the Valley of the Kings, which has an inspection team checking on the work and which is charged with drawing up a future plan of action for the whole necropolis."

Last week the committee embarked on an inspection tour on work being carried out in the Ramasseum and the mortuary temple of Seti I. "What the SCA is setting out to do is to encourage archaeological research in the Eastern and Western Deserts and in the Delta for the next 10 years. These are the sites that require most attention because they are seriously threatened by urban development, agricultural expansion and subsoil water."

"Our policy is not to decrease the number of foreign archaeological missions in Egypt nor to make things more difficult for them, but to control the excavations and encourage documentation, publication, restoration and conservation," Hawass concluded. "If this is not done now, 100 years hence most of our marvellous monuments will be beyond repair."

Additional stipulation:

It is absolutely prohibited for any member of a mission to be involved with dealers of stolen antiquities. Each is called upon to yield any information regarding such objects to the Department of Stolen Artifacts. Anyone found guilty of unlawful involvement in Egyptian antiquities will be removed from the excavation, and should Court prove the director himself guilty, the concession of the mission will be terminated.

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