French archaeological missions are key actors in international scientific cooperation


The numerous archaeological sites from all five continents are under threat of armed conflict, looting and degradation by man and the passing of time, as well as natural disasters. In view of this, safeguarding, protecting and securing ever greater knowledge of this universal heritage is essential.

For the past 70 years, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs has worked towards this goal, to ensure the excellence and sustainability of research, and has constantly reiterated its support for the teams on the ground worldwide. On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Commission des fouilles (Excavation Commission), and of the International Conference on the Protection of Endangered Heritage in Abu Dhabi on 2 December 2016, co-chaired by France, we wanted to highlight this commitment and share with you the results of all those years spent by men and women working for missions on the ground.

Every Friday, for seven weeks, discover the goals and challenges of French archaeological missions: knowledge and skills transfers between partners, the training of young researchers, France’s contribution to advanced technology, and the adaptation of missions to new modern world challenges to preserve sites in crisis zones and their post-conflict rehabilitation. We will also describe the participation of French missions in major discoveries such as the Toumai man in Chad, and flagship missions like Angkor in Cambodia and Petra in Jordan.

Diplomacy and archaeology: a unique framework – a historical link

Since the mid-19th century, close ties were forged between archaeology, a discipline invented by France among others, and diplomacy. Diplomats’ interest in archaeology was first evident in 1843 when the French consuls in Mosul, Paul-Emile Botta and Victor Place, discovered the site at Khorsabad. In 1877, the French Consul in Basra, Ernest de Sarzec, in turn revealed the Sumerian civilization at the Telloh archaeological site.

This process continued in the wake of the Second World War, when this tie was sealed through the creation, initiated by General de Gaulle and the archaeologist Henri Seyrig, of the Commission consultative des recherches archéologiques françaises à l’étranger or Commission des fouilles (Excavation Commission).

This body brings together the best specialists on the geographical areas and periods concerned to evaluate each year the scientific quality of research projects and propose the main scientific guidelines to be followed abroad. In 2016, 160 missions were financed in the five continents, including 12 projects led by young archaeologists, attesting to the generational renewal of teams.

Archaeological missions deployed in over 70 partner countries worldwide generate close scientific and academic cooperation, by awarding fellowships, establishing an international research network and involving a great many local researchers in archaeological digs. International, multidisciplinary teams conducting joint research on the ground are being set up around the world.

Internationally recognized for the quality of its production, its innovative capacity, and the dialogue it promotes with host countries, French archaeology is a particularly relevant diplomatic asset in a context of economic globalization and growing pressure from human and environmental threats to major sites of civilization. The long-standing partnerships French archaeology creates on the ground sometimes help maintain or restart dialogue that transcends political developments in the host country.

Updated: december 2016

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