Archaeological missions are perhaps the least-known and the most unique of all French scientific cooperation actions.
The close ties between archaeology (a discipline that France helped create) and diplomacy were formed through a long-standing tradition dating back to the middle of the 19th century. Fresh impetus was given to the process in the aftermath of World War II, with the founding of the Advisory Commission for Archaeological Research Abroad – the “Excavations Commission” – under the auspices of General de Gaulle and archaeologist Henri Seyrig.
The Advisory Commission convenes leading experts on the geographical areas and periods concerned to propose the main scientific priorities and assess the quality of the research projects. The chosen projects receive funding from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
For 70 years, the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs has supported teams in the field around the world and enables research excellence to endure. French missions have contributed to major discoveries, such as Sahelanthropos (“Toumai”) in Chad, and have worked at emblematic sites such as Pompeii in Italy, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Petra in Jordan and Lalibela in Ethiopia.
More than 160 missions are supported each year and deployed across all continents. They prompt intense scientific and academic cooperation, the creation of an international research network and the integration of local researchers in excavation teams.
They also enable transfers of knowledge and skills amongst partners, training of young researchers and the promotion of French cutting-edge techniques.
In a context of globalization of exchanges and increasing endangerment of outstanding monuments of civilization, caused by both humans and the climate, archaeological missions also have social purposes:
Responding to new challenges for the preservation of sites in crisis areas and their restoration post-conflict;
Fostering dialogue with host countries;
Maintaining or reengaging dialogue beyond political developments thanks to long-term partnerships created in the field.